How to Succeed in Morality without Really Trying: Testing the Influence of Implicit Prototypes on Moral Action

Doctoral Dissertation


The current studies examined whether actor prototypes can motivate one to act in a moral fashion. Studies 1 and 2 examined whether people form different prototype representations for actors who engage in presumptively moral behaviors (volunteer, coach, donor, environmentalist, and political activist). Results from these studies indeed suggest that participants viewed these as “moral” actors, and that participants’ representations of these actors demonstrate prototype structure. Furthermore, while these moral actor prototypes are quite similar, participants did list distinctive traits and attributes for the different prototypes. Study 3 then examined whether people are motivated to volunteer as a result of their volunteer prototype representations. Support was found for this link in two ways. First, participants primed with traits indicative of volunteers were more likely to volunteer for an additional study than unprimed participants, although this effect was subject to environmental influences. Second, participants’ perceptions of volunteer prototypes positively predicted their reported volunteer hours per week. Participants who viewed volunteers as favorable and as similar to themselves reported greater weekly volunteerism. These results thus support claims that implicit moral actor prototypes do motivate moral action, and future research directions are discussed.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-06182009-094720

Author Patrick L. Hill
Advisor Daniel Lapsley
Contributor Kathleen Eberhard, Committee Member
Contributor Laura Carlson, Committee Member
Contributor Bradley Gibson, Committee Member
Contributor Daniel Lapsley, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Psychology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2009-06-11

Submission Date 2009-06-18
  • United States of America

  • volunteerism

  • social cognition

  • prototype theory

  • moral psychology

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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