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Understanding Moral Character Through Context

Young boy with fingers on temples expressing pain
The study of moral character has taken off in recent years. A couple of recent papers by Geoff Goodwin and his colleagues and Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols have made clear that perceptions of morality and character are central to the way we perceive ourselves and others. But moral character isn’t only important as a lens through which we perceive one another – it is a vital component of who we are and why we do the things we do.

Video Dialogue: Taya Cohen and Geoff Goodwin on Moral Character

Taya Cohen and Geoff Goodwin talking on camera
Taya Cohen (Organizational Behavior, Carnegie Mellon University) and Geoff Goodwin (Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania) discuss their respective research programs on the psychology of moral character.

Can we Undo our First Impressions?

Image of white woman shaking hands with black man
Imagine that you learn something highly negative about someone new. For instance, say, an up and coming politician is accused of corruption, or a new faculty member is rumored to have sexually harassed studentsFurther, imagine that you find out later that you were entirely wrong. Perhaps the politician’s opponents planted evidence, or the rumors about the faculty member were soundly discredited. In scenarios like these, can we fully cast aside our false first impressions, or might they persist at some level even after we explicitly believe that we have changed our minds?

Shared Perceptions: Morality is Embedded in Social Contexts

Wordmap of morality
The partisanship and rancor in Washington is aMoral psychology Word Cloud Concept troubling indicator of how different political liberals and conservatives have become. After all, the places we live, the media we watch, and the candidates we vote for have become increasingly polarized. Underlying many of these changes are basic differences concerning the kinds of moral communities we live in, the moral messages we hear, and the moral issues our politicians stand for.

Highlights from Year 1 of Character and Context

Image of horizontal notebook with "Top 10" handwritten on it

Ed. Note: I want to take this opportunity to welcome Erika Salomon back into the fold at Character and Context. She did a wonderful job editing the blog this past summer, and is coming on as co-editor. You can follow her on twitter    SPSP's official blog Character and Context has become a source for following and discussing the latest developments in personality and social psychology over its first year (or thereabout—I'm counting everything from the blog's inception until now).


Which Comes First: The Trust or the Commitment?

Image of couple sitting at small table, woman is holding flowers
Relationships, and lives, are shaped fundamentally by our perceptions and expectations of others. In a symposium during SPSP’s 16th Annual Convention, researchers considered how personality and experience influence our evaluation of potential and current partners, which in turn has profound effects on the quality and development of one’s relationships.
Trust and responsiveness are two important pieces in maintaining a healthy relationship. But how do each of those actually affect relationships?

The Effect of Money on Your Emotions

$100 bills flying in the air
“There is no culture on Earth that has found money and then decided not to use it…Money is a useful tool to facilitate human connection and advancement,” said Kathleen Vohs at the beginning of a symposium at SPSP’s 16th Annual Convention.
Money holds a very powerful sway over an individual’s emotions, personality and decisions. And it can influence the decisions of young children more than we realize.

Women are Underrepresented in Fields that Idolize Brilliance and Genius

Woman in lab coat working on robotic machine

Pervasive cultural associations link men but not women with raw intellectual brilliance. Consider, for example, how difficult it is to think of even a single portrayal of a woman who – like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House, or Sheldon Cooper – displays that special spark of genius.

Taking the long view: Emotion over time

Woman with red heart balloon in her hand jumping in the air over a green field
It’s an old canard that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Recent research presented at SPSP’s 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach suggested that when it comes to understanding emotional experience, though, a momentary “snapshot” of the influences on emotion at a particular moment in time only tells a small part of the story.