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Moral Identity Doesn't Fall from the Sky with Tobias Krettenauer

Dr. Tobias Krettenauer is a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he directs the Morality, Identity, and Environmental Sustainability Research Group. He is also a consulting editor for Child Development and an associate editor of the Journal of Moral Education. Dr. Krettenauer’s current work examines morality and sustainability, the relationship between moral identity and moral emotions, and how moral identity is shaped by culture. He is most known, however, for his focus on how moral identity develops in adolescence and adulthood, which we discuss in this episode.

APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). Moral Identity Doesn't Fall from the Sky with Tobias Krettenauer (2019, December 10).  [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from


NOTE: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.

Amber Cazzell: 00:01:09 Today we'll be talking about the concept of moral identity, what it is and how it develops, because as Tobias says, it doesn't just drop out of the sky. There's some sort of a developmental trajectory that should be involved at least theoretically. But before we go there first of all, just thank you for being with me. Thank you for inviting me. And and as always like to start off with hearing backstories. So I'd love to hear about how you became interested in psychology and then moral identity in particular.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:01:42 Okay. great. Yes. so I started a little bit far away. I mean I actually have my own personal kind of theory about what makes people interested in moral psychology in the first place. And I had a chance to listen to some of the podcasts they're already posted. And my kind of personal theory, personal observation is that many people who have an interest, particularly interest in all psychology, they are very often have a religious upbringing and some of them break away and say, this is not something I want to further continue. Others grow into their religious commitments. And I have to say I'm the first category. I mean, I was raised in a Catholic family and it was not a kind of a dogmatic Catholicism, but it was just part of the normal family life.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:02:39 But I remember very early, late childhood, early teenage years, I kind of found out this is not something I want to pursue. And I see many other people who are interested, in moral psychology, have similar histories. Now that does not say that sometimes people come from a similar background, they have interest in morality, moral psychology. But that's more rare. But anyway, so that's was the, the first thing I wanted to say. When you have this kind of background, do you use this language of good and bad, right and wrong and that has a strong religious kind of footing or foundation? And when you move out of that, you of course, you ask yourself, where can I put that language? Where does it come from and how can I still use it? And that certainly is something that happened to me quite early.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:03:34 And that drew me into interest interest. I mean, it was very much in this morality in general and not so much psychology, morality. So where does this language of good and bad come from? How can I make sense to it? And that's certainly one route. Then another one I have to say, you hear from my accent, English is not my first language. I'm actually German. I grew up in Germany and I grew up at a time in this country, 1970s, early 1980s, where what people call in German now, they use these long German word, I mean for [inaudible] what the Germans say that they, I mean, they started to deeply reflect on Nazi story and how could that happen? This didn't happen right away after world war two, but it started in the 1960s, and then was really on top of the agenda of many for many people in the 1970s and eighties in the schools, everywhere people talked about what happened during world war two.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:04:40 And for me as a, that time kind of child or a young teenager, this was very kind of important because I got this deep sense that we really have to have a strong foundation for our morality. If we don't have that, it can easily be swept away. And that happened in Germany in the 1930s and forties, and it happened in the other countries and it can happen again. So this sense of morality is really important to have a strong foundation for it at the same time, not really knowing where my foundation is. But we were biographically really important motivations. Why I was always interested in ethics and morality. And Oh, for some reason I then started to study psychology. I have to say the first couple of semesters I studied, I wasn't really excited about it, but then I discovered Piaget and Kholberg and the Piaget and Kholberg theories and I was really hooked from the very moment.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:05:49 I mean, this idea of a constructivist view on moral development. It's not only that we kind of receive certain from society or teachers or parents, but that reconstruct to some extent our own morality in men, not as individuals by their social beings. That really hit me and got me interested in psychology in the first place. And then of course in developmental psychology in particular. Now, having said that, I mean, when I started to study psychology development in psychology, it was in the mid eighties, 1980s. The core work was already kind of a buff this, the pinnacle and it, it started to decline. It is in his influence. And then for my whole time, and it was a doctoral student and a postdoc, and a researcher, junior researcher, I, witnessed this kind of steep decline of the core works theory and really lost currency as people say.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:06:54 And of course that for me was a sense of loss. At the same time, I I do see that, I mean the decline of Kohlberg's theory, it just not it didn't just run out of fashion for whatever reasons, but it has deep problems. Kind of from an empirical point of view, they are many holds. You can point it and you can say it doesn't hold water. And so there are reasons why Kohlberg's theory lost this influence. At the same time, I really think that Kholberg has an important message to tell or yeah, it's still, and this has to do with the way he in a very elegant and impressive way, was able to combine philosophical, psychological and educational perspective and bundle them together in one really interesting integrative framework and theory. And he managed that.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:08:02 And because of that, he gave this idea of moral education or moral development, a lot of momentum and the really integrated field. And all of a sudden there was such a thing as a field where people actually could meet and talk about more education. And that's the reason why we are at an AME conference like this year. And this is what Kholberg achieved. And I think I use, or I, I consider Kholberg still as a kind of placeholder. I mean he reminds us or he tells us that it's really important even for researchers today to find or define concepts and use them in their research that somehow have this integrative potential. And for me the concept of moral identity is actually one of them. That's the kind of road I, it took me two to really got interested in more identity and I do research research in this area for the last couple of years.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:09:14 Moral identity clearly has psychological meaning and significance. And it actually, yeah, there are many psychological aspects that somehow fit into that. It's a self concept. Emotions of course motivation, action, all these things are supposed to come together. And the concept of more identity, it clearly has connections to philosophy. I mean virtue theory on the one hand, but also different moral philosophies. I mean it is comparable with virtue ethics and deontological ethics at the same time. So you can connected with philosophical traditions. And at the same time, I think although that's still kind of dormant identity moral identity is clearly also related to moral character and character has been the key concept in the, in the domain of education. So I see moral identity as a concept that really can bridge these different disciplines and different perspectives and that makes it very interesting and potentially promising for me to work with that. That is the reason why I came to morality and moral identity in particular as an object of my study.

Amber Cazzell: 00:10:31 Okay. So let's that's a, that's a thank you. That was an awesome story and backdrop to hear. Let's talk about moral identity. Let's hash it out a bit more. So many of the listeners are involved in the community that we're here with. We're at AME right now for listeners and a lot of people on the podcast are involved in AME and will be familiar with concepts of moral identity already, but some listeners are not. So when we talk about moral identity, what do you really mean by that?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:11:05 Okay. there's again a quick answer and a long answer. I kind of find it, try to find a middle road. Eh, I mean first we can say it's just the intersection of two areas. That all that both matter in people's life. I mean the two questions people ask themselves. I mean often who I am at one side, that's the identity question, right? And then there is very often the question that comes up, what should I do? I mean, what kind of life do I want to live and where these two questions meet this is where more identity actually happens. I put it that way and there is clearly I think an an everyday indicator that, that tells me that everyone, every person has such a moral identity. I like to do the following thought experiments with students also in my classes.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:12:04 I tell them, okay, try to imagine a a characteristic, a person characteristic you deeply admire in others and also think that is important for yourself. Many people come up with things and like being honest, trustworthy, sometimes caring. And then I continue to say, no, try to imagine you would, for whatever reason, lose that characteristic. Hmm. Some trauma, maybe a medical kind of intervention and many people spontaneously come up with a response. No, that's not possible. If that happened to me, I wouldn't be the same person. I would be a different person. And it's interesting. There's actually some research that used kind of that paradigm to study that systematically and there's compared these kind of moral characteristics with other characters, it's people normally think are really important to define my individuality, like my preferences. Teenagers for instance very important, what kind of clothing style you have, what kind of food preferences you have or whatever.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:13:16 And when you ask this similar type of question, imagine you would like this type of food for some time, but then you change and you don't like it anymore. People say that's perfectly fine, but it has, that's just kind of the surface level of me that doesn't change me deep down. Whereas with morality, it really has this quality. These qualities are deeply anchored in myself. And if they change, I change as a person. So that tells me that moral identity is real and we is an aspect relevant of a relevant aspect, sorry, of how people experience themselves in their everyday life. Now there's this, just kind of the more related to the phenomenology of, of more identity and not so much to the psychological theory. How do psychologists talk about moral identity and as you perhaps know from reading a little bit about this, I mean there are generally two approaches.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:14:20 People like to differentiate. There is a what people call a trait based approach and there is a what they call this sociocognitive approach. So trait based approach basically means moral identity is a personality attribute that is stable across times. And also across context is something you always carry with you if you want. Uand it's always kind of salient to you. Whereas the social cognitive approach basically means it has to be activated in a given situation and you have to kind of be reminded of your identity. And if you are in, a situation where you're going to this moral active, moral identity is activated, you are all of a sudden it is become salient to you, then your soul kind of, it starts to influence on what you think and feel and do in a given situation. So yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:15:15 Well, so I was curious about that. Like how does, you had said you have this personal theory that everybody has a moral identity to some degree. And that in a lot of other ways that people tend to self identify, they are more willing to abandon that and still feel like their core self is the same. How active is moral identity typically compared to some of these other self identifiers? So for instance, like political affiliation or like relational relational stances like Oh, I am a mom or I am a brother, that type of a thing.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:15:52 I mean this is certainly a dimension of individual differences, right? For some people it is active almost all the time. Regardless of what situation you are actually in, you always have this moral identity as a very important aspect of how you see yourself regardless of the situation you are actually immersed in. And for other people it is much more flat fluctuating attribute. It depends. They need more, if you want contextual support to actually have that aspect of the self activated, that's certainly a a fact. I would say a psychological fact.

Amber Cazzell: 00:16:35 And so sorry. Is it okay if I, how, how does that get captured when we're doing, when we're trying to measure something like moral identity, right? Because there's presumably a behavioral difference between people who kind of perpetually think of themselves as having a moral identity and the person who doesn't tend to think of themselves as having that identity but would still object to having honesty taken out of their personhood.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:17:05 I believe that we, in the end in, in, at, I need research, we need to find a middle road here. And we haven't really found yet. Okay. So most of the measures that are used to kind of measure my identity, they are a what people call trait based. Right. You ask people, how important is it for you to be honest, caring, fair and without any contextual kind of index attached to it. I mean, in my research, I really started to break, break away from that. And I asked people about the importance of these moral attributes in different of their life. We started with a contrasting three contexts. I mean, family school or work, depending whether it's an adolescent or an adult person we interview and then the larger community and society. And what you find, for instance, that in the school and work context, moral identity generally is much lower.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:18:16 Family is always important for many people and they really try their best authentically try their best to to show their morality to their family members. But in this school and work context, not that a strong and interestingly justice study presented here at this conference. This morning we also compare with teenagers. Their moral identity with family and friends in relation to online contexts when they're online. And you see even a bigger difference. So online being online is the moral identity when you are online is even less important than the moral identity when you are in school. And so it is a really naturally would a personality characteristic that is not a trait I would say. But that there is a lot of cross context that does not necessarily mean that all people follow the same pattern.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:19:18 Of course there's some people who are more consistent across a broad range of contexts and others that go more with the flow and adjust their moral identity according to the situational characteristics. So in my, you I think a trait based approach that really things more than have my identity as a generalized personality attribute is one extreme social cognitive approach is another extreme where we think it all depends on what kind of cues people receive in a given situation. A middle ground perhaps is most realistic. Where we see, yes, of course there is some variation. Moral identity in some contexts is more saving for many people than in others. And it is such an interesting question. What makes this context differences?

Amber Cazzell: 00:20:13 Are you aware of any experience sampling? For other kind of intensive...

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:20:19 Very good question. I have to say, ah, that would be really something. Um people should do more, I have to say, including myself may really try to, I mean capture the, very moment and ask people how important has been a personality, a personality aspect of morality related to morality in the last 10 minutes for you. And then what did you do? What did you just experience? I'm aware of any study that has been done in this area and whoever wants to study moral identity and wants to do something new should do that. Okay. Yes, we can encourage some people to do that.

Amber Cazzell: 00:20:58 Yeah. There it's a, I just recently collected some intensive longitudinal data and it's a steep learning curve, but it's fun. It's good stuff. Yeah. Okay. So I want to kind of backtrack a little bit in hashing out morality, you had mentioned earlier that you think moral identity kind of provides a bridge between deontological moralities and sort of of a virtue ethics form of morality. And I think that's really interesting because when I was reading your paper about sort of the developmental precursors to moral identity, I was, I was caught by what felt like a tension between a deontology and a virtue ethics perspective on this. So maybe I'll just get your reactions, for instance.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:21:52 Absolutely true. I mean, generally speaking, just to maybe for the, for the persons who listen. I mean deontological theories are about individual actions. And the question, what should I do in a given situation? What is the right thing to do? Is we face a situation where you ask yourself, should I do this or this? And then you come up with an answer that is the kind of the core interest or question you ask when you are gonna approach morality from a deontological perspective. Now in virtue ethics does not deal with specific situations. And actually like this, but more in general, how do you want to lead your life? I mean why did what values matter most in the long term? In order to lead a virtuous life and virtue thoery is generally assume that leading or living a virtuous life also leads to happiness or flourishing, it's called and so it kind of has a reason to do that now.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:23:02 I think from a psychological perspective it's not a big problem to connect these two things. I mean we of course face situations every day where we ask ourselves, what should I do? Use kind of feel it maybe a certain conflict between conflicting interests and desires. You have, of course, the student who is going to have a writing an exam has the desire to excel in the exam at the same time. You know, it's not the right thing to do. And you face this conflict and you ask yourself, what should I do? So this is the situation the deontological philosopher also is addressing and in view are moral identity really becomes important when you face this I mean these conflicting interests and goals you have in your life, of course you want to be successful. And at the same time you want to be moral and moral identity helps you to kind of prioritize morality in these contexts of conflicting goals and interests and desires. And kind of provides an additional motivation to in the end, follow what you think is the better thing to do from a moral point of view.

Amber Cazzell: 00:24:19 Yeah. And then of course, like what you think is the better thing to do. Like if you're getting conflicted, you could imagine a situation in which deontology would divert a moral action away from what a virtue ethics perspective might think is a moral action in, in a given situation. So like when I think about deontological systems, I start to immediately think about duty based ethics and doing something because not because you want to, but because he feel it's the right thing to do. And so to some extent you have to, to maintain a form of morality.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:24:54 That's another important aspect you, you are pointing at is the, the type of motivation that is involved when we actually do the right thing. Yeah. So strictly deontological kind of perspective on it would say you only do it because it's the right thing to do and nothing else. Right. Whereas from a virtuous perspective, you would say things, no, that's not enough. You really kind of I mean, deeply want this to be this type of person and therefore you want to do it. So this, this is the genuine, the, the, the, the real motivation, moral motivation. I think from a psychological perspective, it is not necessarily do really pitch these two things against each other. It is, I mean, any human activity, whatever we do in in our life, we, they often have more than just one goal to do these things.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:25:51 I mean, very simple. Of course you want to have a good exam but at the same time you want to graduate and you want to get a certain job. These are all goals that kind of form a hierarchy. But they, they, it's, it doesn't make sense to say in this context the one goal is going to more important than the other. They're all important at the same moment. And I think the same with morality. You can say, of course I can be motivated to be honest in a given situation because I feel honesty is the right thing to do here to be honest. At the same time, you have the idea that you want to be an honest person and that's why you can have that or that backs up the deontological motivation just to do what you consider right. So I don't see these unfortunately. I mean we have this different philosophical traditions that kind of emphasize different motivations people have. But from a psychological perspective, it's not necessarily a conflict. And as psychologists kind of, we need to be careful not to be drawn away too much from different philosophical views because they don't help us in really bring, bringing things together as they are.

Amber Cazzell: 00:27:10 Yeah, I think I agree with you that I think some of it gets to be just kind of a point of semantics as opposed to really changing the meat of the issue. But I was fascinated by, I would love to get into now your developmental aspects of moral identity because one of them that I had read about was this idea of intention or volition. So you had mentioned in your paper that infants, young babies and toddlers will sort of automatically automatically have an inclination to do things that are pro-social. Although the caveat being that typically it's non costly, prosocial behavior. And it seems like you were conceptualizing intentionality developing when people start to do costly pro social behaviors. Can you tell me a bit about just more of a, flesh that out for me and

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:28:15 Of course the question that comes up or has to come up with sort of going and we talk about more identity about this sense of who do I want to be and the importance of morality to define your own identity. And it's obvious, it's self evident that a newborn baby doesn't have that. I mean and and also as we said right at the beginning of the interview, it doesn't fall from the sky so where does it come from. Right. And that is a question that really has kind of troubled me and still is troubling me because I have to admit, I don't have the final answer at this point. But I'm, I, I'm trying to do to find my way through this jungle and the idea is, I mean and kind of a model that when we talk about moral identity, I think it's really important to talk about motivation, what motivates people to act.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:29:06 So I consider my at any particular relevant in that context and there are basically three layers of motivation, of moral motivation. We all have probably there is first this spontaneous almost involuntary desire to, to be good and to help others. And and this is something that actually can be shown with all the methods stuff. I mean, psychology like to use using experiments. You can show that already 14 to 15 month old kids, they can barely walk want to help others to achieve their goals. There's, it's a funny, I mean experiments that had been done now by the Tomasello group in Leipzig where an experiment or drops something and pretends not being able to reach the, maybe the clothespin or whatever. And it says, Oh, Oh, Oh, it doesn't say, please help me.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:30:12 It's just a Oh and 13, 14 month old child is watching that maybe for 10, 15 seconds, not really knowing what is going on here. And then, you know, she walks over, takes the clothespin and gives it to the experimenter. And, and that is a reliable thing. And interestingly, I mean, this child was not asked to help. This child is not kind of I mean the behavior is not reinforced. It's not praised it. Child doesn't get anything out of it. But it will repeatedly do, or he or she will. We probably did do this. And that tells people that this kind of prosocial motivation is really intrinsic. I mean, and it is very agentic because whatever you do spontaneously without being asked, without being reinforced to do that, that is something you do out of yourself. There's nothing else that motivates you to do this.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:31:14 Just use punting his intention or inclination to do that. And I think that is a very important core, should not forget when we talk about moral identity because that is a foundation on which moral identity later on, someone who has to build on. Now as you say, this is low cost behavior and it's not, doesn't, yeah, it doesn't cost much the child to do this. And but we still see the similar tendencies are in a little bit older children that they spontaneously engage in pro social actions without being asked, without being reinforced to do that. And that is an important dimension of moral motivation where I think the self, the moral self is immediately present in the action. Now, morality is not just about helping others in situations where it's obvious that I want to help, but it is very often about conflicting aspects, conflicting goals.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:32:21 And so children as you know, or are you going to know when they get a little bit older, you do not only observe this pro social action, but you also observe a lot of aggression, a lot of instrumental aggression particularly, right. I mean, I want to play with this toy. That's why I just take it from the other child and I don't care whether that child is crying or not. I mean, so there is the same spontaneous tendency to be aggressive if you want. Yeah, it's a mixed bag, definitely. And that's why we in long run, I mean develop what I call kind of a volitional self where children are able to kind of I mean, there's one philosopher of Harry Frankfurt who created the term, I mean, second order desires. So you don't want to be a certain type of person or you do don't want to be you don't want to do certain acts in the first place, right. You are able to prioritize things you think are better or right. Over other things you think that are not good or that they're wrong to do. This is an essential ability children need to learn. But at that point they don't necessarily need to have a moral identity. It's just, I know it's not good to do that. That's why I don't want to do it or it's not good to take away this toy from another child. And that's why I, I don't want to do this. Right. that's the volitional self. You, you actually develop an idea what is better to do in a given situation even though you'll feel this conflict you to develop this conception.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:34:11 And then I say, well, that's a third layer that comes later. In order to back up this volitional itself, we later on develop a moral identity because it's not just, I know it's wrong, but you somehow develop this idea and this is, I don't want to be the type of person who is doing this stuff to others. So these are the three layers. I mean, you spontaneously develop a prosocial inclinations. We see that in children around the age of six, seven children develop more and more of volitional self where they can prioritize more goals over other goals, but at that time that don't have a moral identity yet. And more identity comes in later where you can where this volitional self is kind of backed up by an idea that a concept of it, a certain type of person I want to be and I want to maintain that moral identity in the actions. Actually I do. So more motivation is complex if you want it. It's not just homogeneous one dimensional concept, but there are different aspects that come together that in the end explain the motivation act morally.

Amber Cazzell: 00:35:38 You had also mentioned like a self determination came

up a fair amount in your papers and for listeners who might not know what self determination theory is, it's essentially a theory of motivation that posits that the degree to which a motivation is intrinsic matters for the frequency of that behavior. And just of course identifying with it, it being internal. And so you had mentioned that in this developmental process, often later versions of intentionality, you might move from being in an interjected phase. That's a phase in which you're doing something, not necessarily because you want to, but because you want to hold up others expectations. And I wondered if that's maybe like one of the criticisms of self determination theory is that it might privilege a Western view that prioritizes autonomy over other considerations like community. And so I'm wondering to what degree this conceptualization, this piece of needing it to be intrinsic might make the moral identity concept a Western concept. Does that make sense?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:36:54 Okay. yeah, I, I, I think I can follow the way of, of thinking. One thing is really important that when you mentioned self determination theory, it's self determination theory consist of various they call it mini theories or sub theories. And one theory or one theory component says there's a three basic psychological needs. We have and these needs are universal. So it's a first the need for relatedness to be in good relationship with others and to feel also respected and appreciated by others. And then it's what they call the need for competence, just to be effective in your actions. You do something and you experience yourself as someone who can do stuff put it that way. And then there's the need for autonomy that you feel the actions you perform come from yourself. They're not forced on you from external circumstances.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:38:01 And these are universal needs according to self determination theory. So they are independent of any cultural background. Now, of course, culture vary a lot with regard to how we express these needs and how we meet these needs a, and there are different configurations, but the needs are always there. And I'm more identity now. I think it's not just a need for autonomy in terms of well being independent of others, but moral identity actually somehow brings together these three different universal needs, the renewed for relatedness for being effective and for being the author of your own actions. So I'm not sure that the concept of moral identity actually is as such culture specific. It is totally I mean acceptable and clear that what people understand as moral is to some extent influenced by our cultural background and the culture we live, we grow up in. But these aspect of taking in certain values and ideals and norms and making them your own and think this is the type of person I want to see I want to be, I want to see myself as this type of person. This is certainly a universal developmental trend. Okay. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:39:38 And so what else what else is needed developmentally for moral identity? We've talked about the intentionality piece, but what else is there?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:39:47 So the that's very important is this on, as I said, and in this intrinsic motivation. We as we observe in younger children to act morally and that the piece that tells us a lot about, I mean, what is needed is it comes from another aspect of self determination theory where they look into it's called organismic integration theory, where they look into what kind of painting practices for instance, generally help children and teenagers and maybe even adults. I mean, to integrate certain aspects that are first part of their culture to, to, so to move from an external to an internal mode of self revelation. And that has been studied in hundreds of studies, not so much directly with moral matters. But in many other areas, health related issues, burns and and people in this area of self determination theory, they call it autonomy support. So you support children or teenagers or adults in their autonomy and that helps them to integrate rules, values, norms into their own self. And that means, for instance that you,

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:41:17 Do not, you provide some choice. That's one thing. Then the next thing is that you give a rationale for why it is important to follow certain rules or to um do uh things. And a third aspect is the acknowledging of negative emotions, right? You acknowledge that sometimes it's not fun to do this or that, but it is still important to do it. And these are, I mean, three elements. Are there others, I mean, but we don't have to go through the whole list. And all these different aspects of supporting children or adolescents in integrating external regulations so that they become internal to the self help a lot in order to develop a more internal form of moral identity. And that also gives us an answer why for instance is more identity much lower and the conduct of school or work because these contracts are typically what self determination theory calls coercive. They put a lot of pressure on people. They're highly competitive. You have to meet deadlines. And it's very instrumental. So whatever you do in the school over contacts is not so much about your immediate kind of desires and, and goals, your personal goals, but it's instrumental to achieve something else. And these are a context that do not support autonomy.

Amber Cazzell: 00:43:00 Yeah. That reminds me of what you had been mentioning earlier about, you know, growing up at a time when people in Germany were really trying to figure out what had happened during world war two. And it seems like, I mean, clearly being involved in the military is, is also, I mean, coercive in a way. Like I imagine it being very much like top down, I do this because somebody told me to type of thing. So in your studies of moral identity, have you found any, like what seems to predict globalizing of moral identity as opposed to, you know, having a moral identity at home but not in the military and not at work and that sort of thing?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:43:50 I mean, again, I can refer to self determination theory first. We don't want to live in in a, in a world where we basically fall into different pieces. So I am this type of person in my family, but I'm this type of person at work and self determination, you would call this a fragment itself. And that is generally considered something. I mean there is, according to this theory an organismic trend to integrate even conflicting aspects of yourself and to develop a sort of homogeneous self. And the autonomy support also is relevant for developing an integrated self that cuts across different domains. On top I would of course thing that here're also things, I mean reflection come in are important. People reflect about conflictual aspects of their own self and as they reflect upon that, they also, I mean maybe come to the point that they become more consistent.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:45:10 There's one interesting study I did sometime ago where we confronted people with their own conflictual past. And so imagine something you did in the past where you would say today this was not okay. So you're confronting people with their own immoral self of the past if you want. And and it's very interesting how people react to that. I mean, some become very defensive and say, you know, this has nothing to do with myself anymore. This is past, this is done. I, I just, I'm, I, I want to get over this. Whereas others make a direct connection between what you were in the past and what you are now and say, yes, this, they take kind of responsibility for what happened in the past and say, I hope I have learned from that.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:46:09 I now hope if I ever come in a similar situation again, I would not do this again. I know this, this situation, the ponds really taught me a lesson. It helps me know to become better. And interestingly again, you'll find that and moral identity that is more internally defined helps people to confront themselves with conflicting of aspects, whereas an externally driven more identity doesn't do that. I mean it helps people more to fragment themselves and to push aside aspects they don't want to see. And I'm here. This is basically the same process, the same movement where we can say there is a tendency to all of the cells to grow and to integrate conflicting aspects and the environment needs to provide the right support for that. Any of, then if that happens then we can hope that an integrated, more identity develops that really has trade like characteristics.

Amber Cazzell: 00:47:15 Yeah. Interesting. So what do you think are the biggest challenges for moral identity researchers right now?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:47:24 You already mentioned one. It's the rather limited method or the, the rather limited range of methods we can use. And this is very important whenever you do a psychological study that rely on, on work that has been done in the past by others you to, in order to have good access to empirical information and we right now we really have a very limited arsenal of, of, of methods we can use. And I would love to see a much broader range of different methods to use that helps researchers a lot. And the second you also mentioned already in your interview is we really should try to integrate different cultural perspectives on one entity. Right now it is very much dominated by research from the West. I mean basically Europe and North America, but we would need much more research.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:48:30 That also includes call it through so-called collectivistic countries. I mean, I've done some research with my own grad students, Chinese from China where we compared identity, more identity students from China with students from Canada. But this is just a start. I mean, this is just one tiny study and that doesn't to make a big difference at this moment. So, okay. More measures, better measures, a broader variety of measures, but also it would include kind of experience based sampling. And at the same time, cultural variation.

Amber Cazzell: 00:49:13 Are there any dark sides to moral identity? Like, I could theoretically imagine somebody who has like a, for lack of a better phrase, a broken moral compass where they identify themselves as having a moral identity, but their morality is a like an antisocial one or something like that. And that having an identification with yourself as being this particular set of moral contents might actually bolster that person's negative behaviors.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:49:52 I mean, you, what you would describe as the classical definition of a hypocrite, I think I hypocrite who pretends to have moral identity but doesn't care at all. That that would be an, and I wouldn't let you say it's a dark side. I would more say it's, it's moral identity development gone wrong. I mean, I can easily imagine that at a certain age and when it becomes important for children kind of to demonstrate their identity, their more identity to others that that is an important phase in in the, in the course of moral identity development. But then some children may kind of discover that I can strategically try to maintain a certain identity without actually caring about this aspect. So if it becomes more important for you or when it becomes more important for a person to demonstrate moral identity and then the actually moral identity commitment then that is not present, then we have I think a moral identity that is the identity of a hypocrite. And, and that is moral identity development gone the wrong way?

Amber Cazzell: 00:51:10 Is that just a measurement issue?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:51:11 No, no. I mean that's right now I think we don't really have a good conceptualization of that. I mean because I mean right now we are, the whole discussion in this interview also focused on moral identity. If you want as one goal, right? People want to be moral. They want to maintain itself, you of being moral. But as a matter of fact, I think there are two sub-goals here. I mean of course on the one hand you want to maintain certain self view as a more person. On the other hand, you have aspirations when you want moral identity aspirations and you want to kind of improve as a person and if in one, and it, and that can happen. It doesn't happen so often, but it can happen that the person only cares about maintaining a certain self view but does not have any correspondent aspirations to be that way. Then we have to admit, yes here moral identity works the opposite way. It actually helps people to do immoral things,uin situations where they can be safe and they know, okay,uit doesn't, it won't come back to me and,uthey can actually demonstrate their moral identity to others without having any corresponding more commitments and,uthat is,uis a situation where the more identity is has gone wrong

Amber Cazzell: 00:52:48 Could backfire. Okay. So what, what are just kinda some of the biggest criticisms of moral identity and like, I guess this could be related or an unrelated question, what are your future directions and where do you hope research goes in unraveling more about it?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:53:10 Yeah. Well, I already mentioned that. Certainly the cultural dimension of identity is an important aspect that needs to be studied much more in detail. We need many more studies that are done in other culture context. And I mean the they common criticisms of moral identity researchers also they need to run. It relies a lot on people's self report that we ask people and surveys or questionnaires directly. So how important is it for you to have certain self aspects? Some people say it's ah, that is of course can be biased. And people respond in socially desirable way, but they don't really respond authentically. I'm not sure whether this is really a dramatic problem, but it is a problem. We also need to kind of take care of and make sure that we do not just assess moral identity as lip service people pay and without, we look in deeper and to is it authentic?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:54:15 And my personal view is, I mean, and, and this is perhaps also though the, the, the, the end point where I think I would stop to study moral identity. We really would need a lifespan view on moral identity development. It is clear that my identity is not present at with newborns. Right. It emerges some time in late childhood adolescence, but then it of course continues to exist and change and that's most important until the very end. And I would love to really expand, expand that you into a life term perspective where we have better understanding also of course what factors then influence people's moral identity development as they become adults. And I'll live the life of an adult person. That is a lot of things to do, I think. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:55:25 Do you have any hypothesis about how moral identity continues to develop after let's say after the 20s, once person is thirties and older?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:55:38 Actually, I don't, I do not only have hypothesis we had, we have some done some studies. Yes. It's a very interesting again I mean a little bit of a back background here. You all know of the big five, right? The big five personality traits and they have been studied and on a term perspective or life and life course perspective. And there are two traits that always come up as the two trade that significantly change in adulthood, whereas all the other three don't. And these are conscientiousness and conscientiousness and agreeableness consistently increase when people become older. Whereas the others well don't basically show, don't show any significant mean level changes. And now you know, perhaps that contentiousness and agreement is a, the typical, the moral factors, right? I mean the activity also strongly correlated with moral actions, moral emotions and all these things.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:56:52 And based on that finding that was, well there are meta analysis that show that these are really robust trends. We also wanted to study exactly that and say, is this, is there perhaps an increase in moral identity? That is partly maybe explained by this increases in these two factors, personality factors, but maybe also to some extent independent. And this is exactly what we find. We find that people's more identity becomes stronger, especially between 25 and 45. So when you kind of enter work life and you maybe establish a family and have your own children so that is what personality called personality researchers call the maturity principles. So you, you as you grow older, you're more and more are engaged in roles that require you to be a mature adult and that also helps you to adopt a more mature, moral identity if you want.

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:57:59 And this is interesting what we exactly found that the increase the age related increase in Y identity was only partially explained or attribute level to this personality factors. So while identity is really something that becomes stronger in the adult years and of course that looking back makes it even more important to make sure that adolescents develop the, the, the foundation for you to put it that way. But it is a lifelong process and it doesn't change. It maybe we also, I mean we then had also older age groups in our sample. We saw some kind of flattening of this growth curve between 60 or 55 and 65. And which perhaps has to do with when we did this interview that maybe people said, you know what, in the last 10 years there wasn't much change in my life, but I can imagine then people then, I mean face retirement and changes in their own lives that moral identity again becomes an important issue for them.

Amber Cazzell: 00:59:13 Hmm. Interesting. Okay, so last questions. We're out of time, but we talked a little bit about promoting at least a, like making the motivation, your own internalizing motivation for children, for adults who are wanting to continue developing moral identity for themselves. Do you have any advice or tips that are just like practical things we can do to help build your own moral identity? Or is this something that just has to happen naturally?

Tobias Krettenauer: 00:59:41 A good point. I've, I've never thought of it this way. The only thing I could take your own morality seriously. Yeah. that's most important. What do you think, what do you think is true and important and take that seriously and don't push it aside.

Amber Cazzell: 01:00:02 Yeah, yeah. Very good. Well, thank you so much Tobias. I really appreciate it.

Tobias Krettenauer: 01:00:06 Thank you.

Outro: 01:00:14 Thanks for listening. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or requests, contact me at The moral science podcast is sponsored by ERA Inc, a research and design think tank that's reinventing how people interact with each other. Music throughout the program is Microobee by Keinzweiter and can be found at


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