Pure in heart: Perceived virtue states uniquely predict prosocial processes, spirituality, and well-being


Theorists have posited that people experience behavior metaphorically in ‘social space’ as above versus below others (agency), close versus distant (communion), and morally/spiritually pure or near the heavens versus degrading. Recent research suggests that perceived moral virtue accounts for unique variance in social perceptions, but studies have not examined individuals’ state-like experiences of themselves as virtuous or pure independent of agentic or communal states; the types of behavior experienced as pure; and incremental prediction of prosocial tendencies, spirituality, and well-being. Participants completed free response tasks or interviews in Study 1 (174 students, 23 homeless men, and 16 sex-trafficked women), completed cross-sectional surveys (Study 2: N = 533), or recorded daily self-perceptions and outcomes (Study 3a: N = 95 students, 860 diary records; Study 3b: 89 anxious/depressed patients, 429 diary records). In Study 1, students and stigmatized community samples spontaneously associated states of purity and dirtiness with morally valenced social behavior and spiritual practices. In Study 2a/b, exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses showed that self-perceptions of virtue represented a unique factor not redundant with agency and communion. Last, perceived virtue explained unique variance in self-transcending prosocial tendencies, spirituality, and well-being in cross-sectional (Study 2c) and daily assessments (Studies 3a/b). These findings attest to perceived states of virtue of the self as a unique social cognitive process with potential relevance to personality, well-being, spirituality, and understanding stigmatized groups commonly perceived as physically and morally unclean. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
Adam P. McGuire
Adam P. McGuire
Assistant Professor of Psychology