Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Tobias Krettenauer

Advisor Role

Ph.D Advisor


Researchers in moral psychology have initiated projects to investigate moral identity; however, they agreed that a precise definition and methodology of moral identity has been lacking in establishing the value of this new area. One of the challenges is that cultural explorations of moral identity are absent. Moral identity may take different forms in different cultures, or play an important role in morality in some cultures but not in others (Hardy & Carlo, 2005). The present dissertation was aimed at investigating how Western Canadian and Eastern Chinese cultural orientations relate to moral identities. Three studies were conducted.

In the first study, I introduced a new empirical approach for assessing moral identity to establish a culturally inclusive list of prototypical conceptions of a highly moral person. It provided a foundation for Studies II and III. The new empirical approach combines several features of moral identity measures that have not been integrated into a coherent approach. The new approach starts from Western individuals’ prototypical conceptions of a highly moral person. Because there is no previous Chinese study using this approach to study moral identity, a free listing of the self-importance of moral attributes was used to generate culturally exclusive attributes, which were then combined with the Western moral attributes to create a culturally inclusive list of attributes to describe a highly moral person.

In the second study, I examined similarities and differences in moral identity between Canada and China in the contexts of family, school and community/society. Cultural differences in self-importance of moral identities in each context, cross-context differentiation in moral identity, as well as relative importance of value-domains for defining a person’s moral identity were examined. In both cultural groups, Benevolence and Universalism-tolerance were selected and rated as the cores of defining a moral person. In addition to the core of moral identities, Chinese participants defined a highly moral person more broadly than Canadian participants. With regard to the context, Chinese participants rated the mean level of moral identity more importantly in the context of school and the context of community/society than Canadian participants. Canadian participants’ moral identities on average were more differentiated (less interrelated) across the three contexts than Chinese participants.

In the third study, I focused on a sample of bi-cultural Chinese Canadians to extend the investigation of the socio-cultural impact on moral identity. In general, it was found that Chinese-Canadian mean levels of moral identity and value domains were more similar to European Canadians than to Chinese in China. This finding supports the notion of acculturation, with each person’s heritage self-concept being shifted a little over time and acculturated to the norms of mainstream culture. In addition, neither length of residency in Canada nor immigration status predicted the mean-level of moral identity. Only mainstream acculturation remained a significant predictor.

Across these studies, a key finding seemed to be the critical role that moral identity has some similarities between Eastern and Western cultures, yet it has a different definition to people and is used in varying levels of degrees from one culture to another. The studies provided invaluable insight into the relative role of identity in the domain of morality across cultures.

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