The phenomenology of remembering our moral transgressions.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

People tend to believe that they truly are morally good, and yet they commit moral transgressions with surprising frequency in their everyday lives. To explain this phenomenon, some theorists have suggested that people remember their moral transgressions with fewer details, lower vivacity, and less clarity, relative to their morally good deeds and other kinds of past events. These phenomenological differences are thought to help alleviate psychological discomfort and to help people maintain a morally good self-concept. Given these motivations to alleviate discomfort and to maintain a morally good self-concept, we might expect our more egregious moral transgressions, relative to our more minor transgressions, to be remembered less frequently, with fewer details, with lower vivacity, and with a reduced sense of reliving. More severe moral transgressions might also be less central to constructions of personal identity. In contrast to these expectations, our results suggest that participants' more severe moral transgressions are actually remembered more frequently, more vividly, and with more detail. More severe moral transgressions also tend to be more central to personal identity. We discuss the implications of these results for the motivation to maintain a morally good self-concept and for the functions of autobiographical memory.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Huang, S; Stanley, ML; De Brigard, F

Published Date

  • February 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 48 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 277 - 286

PubMed ID

  • 31989484

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1532-5946

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0090-502X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13421-019-01009-0


  • eng