Paradoxical consequences of prohibitions

Sana Sheikh, Ronnie Janoff-Bulman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
83 Downloads (Pure)


Explanations based in attribution theory claim that strong external controls such as parental restrictiveness and punishment undermine moral internalization. In contrast, three studies provide evidence that parental punishment does socialize morality, but of a particular sort: a morality focused on prohibitions (i.e., proscriptive orientation), rather than positive obligations (i.e., prescriptive orientation). Study 1 found young adults’ accounts of parental restrictiveness and punishment activated their sensitivity to prohibitions and predicted a proscriptive orientation. Consistent with the greater potency of temptations for proscriptively-oriented children, as well as past research linking shame to proscriptive morality, Study 2 found that restrictive parenting was also associated with greater suppression of temptations. Finally, Studies 3a and 3b found that suppressing these immoral thoughts is paradoxically harder for those with strong proscriptive orientations; more specifically, priming a proscriptive (versus prescriptive) orientation and inducing mental suppression of “immoral” thoughts led to the most ego depletion for those with restrictive parents. Overall, individuals who had restrictive parents had the lowest self-regulatory ability to resist their “immoral” temptations after prohibitions were activated. In contrast to common attributional explanations, these studies suggest that harsh external control by parents does not undercut moral socialization, but rather undermines individuals’ ability to resist temptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-315
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date29 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


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