Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Anne Wilson

Advisor Role



How can a person judge another individual’s moral character? One way may be to look to their moral and immoral actions. However, should all actions be weighed equally, whether they occurred in the near or distant past? Moral actions do not occur in a temporal vacuum, yet relatively little research has examined the role of time in moral judgment. We expected that people would weigh a previous immoral act differently depending on when it occurred and on their beliefs about personal malleability. Individuals differ in their implicit theories about the degree to which human characteristics, such as moral character or personality, are malleable (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995). Entity theorists believe that personal characteristics remain stable and fixed throughout one’s life, while incremental theorists believe that these characteristics can change over time. We predicted that incremental theorists would attenuate harsh moral judgments to a greater degree with the passage of time. We also expected that motivated reasoning could influence moral judgments, and examined this by varying race of the offender and assessing prejudice levels. Three studies were designed to examine how implicit theories about personal mutability, time, and offender race affect moral judgments. Participants read about an offender’s past commission of a crime. In Study 1, incremental theorists were more forgiving of the offender and held less punitive beliefs regardless of time (3 or 10 years ago), and that modern racism predicted negative reactions to offenders perceived as Black (but not White), greater subjective recency, and a tendency to shift to a more entity perspective. Study 2 attempted to manipulate offender race, but was unable to do so effectively. In Study 3, offenders who committed crimes in the distant past (3 and 10 years) were judged more positively than those from the recent past (a few months ago), and preliminary evidence that incremental theorists are more positive towards the offender than entity theorists in the distant (but not recent) condition. After using a more overt race manipulation, however, modern racism did not systematically predict judgments about a Black offender, nor did it predict shifts in implicit theories.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season