Cultural Modulation of Moral Regulation: Prescriptive vs. Proscriptive Morality

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May 2023

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Abstract

Morality is an integral part of our life to foster social integration and group living. To behave morally, individuals must be attentive to two types of moral regulation—(a) prescriptive morality (“what people should do”) and (b) proscriptive morality (“what people should not do”). Although both modes of moral regulation are widely recognized and endorsed across different cultures, which form of morality is given more emphasis may vary by cultural contexts. In this dissertation research, I conducted three studies to address three aims: (1) to test cultural variation in the relative significance of prescriptive vs. proscriptive morality, (2) to examine the underlying motivational (approach vs. avoidance motivation) and emotional (guilt vs. shame proneness) mechanisms for the cultural variation, and (3) to examine what implications this cultural difference may have on reactions to moral violations. In Chapter 1, theoretical backgrounds for the current research are discussed. Chapters 2-4 discuss findings from Studies 1- 3 based on the comparisons between European Americans and East Asians. Three key findings emerged. First, across three studies, European Americans ascribed more moral weight to prescriptive morality than did East Asians, while there was no cultural difference in proscriptive morality (Aim 1). Second, Studies 1 and 2 showed that the cultural difference in prescriptive morality was mediated by European Americans’ higher levels of guilt proneness compared to East Asians, thereby elucidating the emotional mechanism for the cultural variation. In contrast, there was no evidence that approach vs. avoidance motivation accounted for the cultural difference in prescriptive morality (Aim 2). Third, Studies 2 and 3 tested whether culture moderates the extent to which people are critical of targets who committed violations of prescriptive or proscriptive morality using a newly developed task of moral violation (Aim 3). Unexpectedly, the two cultural groups did not differ both in their self-reported (Study 2) and behavioral (Study 3) reactions to either type of moral violation. Finally, theoretical implications of these findings are discussed in Chapter 5.

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Psychology, Social

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