The Integration of Agency and Communion in Moral Personality: Evidence of Enlightened Self-Interest
Frimer, Jeremy A
Walker, Lawrence J
Dunlop, William L
Lee, Brenda H
Journal of personality and social psychology 2011 Jul; 101(1): 149-63
Agency and communion are fundamental human motives, often conceptualized as being in tension. This study examines the notion that moral exemplars overcome this tension and adaptively integrate these 2 motives within their personality. Participants were 25 moral exemplars-recipients of a national award for extraordinary volunteerism-and 25 demographically matched comparison participants. Each participant responded to a life review interview and provided a list of personal strivings, which were coded for themes of agency and communion; interviews were also coded for the relationship between agency and communion. Results consistently indicated that exemplars not only had both more agency and communion than did comparison participants but were also more likely to integrate these themes within their personality. Consistent with our claim that enlightened self-interest is driving this phenomenon, this effect was evident only when agency and communion were conceptualized in terms of promoting interests (of the self and others, respectively) and not in terms of psychological distance (from others) and only when the interaction was observed with a person approach and not with the traditional variable approach. After providing a conceptual replication of these results using different measures elicited in different contexts and relying on different coding procedures, we addressed and dismissed various alternative explanations, including chance co-occurrence and generalized complexity. These results provide the first reliable evidence of the integration of motives of agency and communion in moral personality.
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