How does culture shape our moral identity? Moral foundations in Saudi Arabia and Britain

AlSheddi, Mona; Russell, Sophie and Hegarty, Peter (2020). How does culture shape our moral identity? Moral foundations in Saudi Arabia and Britain. European Journal of Social Psychology, 50(1) pp. 97–110.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2619

Abstract

North American measures of moral identity (MI) assume that caring and fairness are the most prototypical features of morality. Moral foundations theory describes such individualising foundations of morality as dominant in individualist cultures and binding foundations of morality as more particular to collectivist cultures. We weighed the criticism that moral identity scales are guilty of “liberal ethnocentrism” in two studies drawing on participants in the UK and Saudi Arabia. Only individualising traits were prototypical of concepts of moral people in Britain, while individualising and binding traits were both prototypical of such concepts in Saudi Arabia (Study 1, N = 160). In Study 2 (N = 539), participants completed the moral identity scale following typical instructions that referred to the prototypical traits of one of five moral foundations. Overall MI scores were lower in Britain than in Saudi Arabia, particularly when instructions described binding traits as characteristics of a moral person. Cross-cultural differences were mediated by the perceived cultural importance attributed to these traits, particularly binding traits. These results justify concerns that existing moral identity scales underestimate important cultural variation in conceptualising moral identity, but justice and caring concerns remain the best single candidates for a universal foundation of human morality.

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