A growth mindset about morality

Is morality hereditary or mainly dependent on upbringing? What is your answer to this question? And to what extent do you think your answer to the question affects your moral self-image? In other words, what is the influence of your morality mindset? Read more.

Our moral self-image

How does our moral self-image come about? In other words, what factors determine to what extent we see ourselves as a good person? To what extent does heredity play a role in this? Does a child inherit the morality of his parents? And to what extent does upbringing play a role? These are difficult questions to answer.

Beliefs About the Heredity of Morality

Apart from the actual influence of heredity and upbringing on your moral self-image, there is another factor that can play a role. That factor is your beliefs about the heredity of morality. Could it be that people who think morality is hereditary base their moral self-image more on the morality of their parents? And could it be that people who think that morality is hereditary base their moral self-image on the morality of their parents?

Research Peetz et al.

Peetz et al. (2021) investigated this. In seven experimental studies (total N = 2,628) they asked respondents to recall moral or immoral acts of their parents and of unrelated individuals. They also measured the extent to which the respondents believed morality is hereditary.

The researchers looked at the extent to which remembering (im)moral actions of parents led to a temporary shift in the respondents' moral self-image. In particular, they were interested in how the respondents' beliefs about the heredity of morality affected the magnitude of such shifts in self-image.

Beliefs influenced moral self-image

The researchers found that respondents who saw morality as hereditary indeed shifted their self-image in the direction of the (im)moral act of the parent they had just remembered.

For respondents who did not believe that morality is hereditary, the moral self-image did not shift after they remembered an (im) moral act of their parents.

Thinking back to an (im)moral act of an unrelated individual had no effect on the moral self-image, regardless of the belief about heredity.

Beliefs influenced moral behavior

Respondents who believed in the heritability of morality also chose less helpful responses to hypothetical help scenarios if they remembered unhelpful (versus helpful) actions by a genetically related relative.

Morality mindset

How we think about the heredity of morality influences how we respond to moral or immoral acts of kin. It can lead to a shift in our moral self-image. I think it would be good to cultivate a growth mindset about morality.

Believing that we are not automatically stuck with the morality of our parents seems liberating to me. Think of children of NSBs or criminals. We do not need to view them as immoral and neither do they themselves. The condition is that we do not see morality as hereditary and unchangeable.