Mapping moral motives: Approach, avoidance, and political orientation

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Sana Sheikh, Kate Baldacci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Recent critiques of moral psychology and the contemporary culture wars highlight the need for a better understanding of diverse moral perspectives. A model of moral motives is proposed. The fundamental approach-avoidance distinction in motivation is crossed with self-other focus to create four moral motives: Self-Restraint (avoidance-self), Social Order (avoidance-other), Self-Reliance (approach-self), and Social Justice (approach-other). Three studies explored these motives in the context of political orientation. Overall, political conservatism was associated with avoidance motives and liberalism with approach motives. Approach-avoidance motives were also associated with distinct patterns of results regarding authoritarianism, social dominance, and positions on contemporary social issues. Responses of campus political groups demonstrated the utility of the moral motives in providing a more nuanced view of politics that also takes into account the model's second dimension, for an emphasis on Self focus (personality responsibility) versus Other focus (social responsibility) further distinguished between conservative groups. Moral and political implications are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1091-1099
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date8 Dec 2007
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Moral psychology
  • Contemporary culture
  • Moral motives
  • Self restraint
  • Social order
  • Self reliance
  • Social justice
  • Political orientation
  • Political conservatism
  • Political groups


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