Using trait and moral theories to understand belief in pure evil and belief in pure good

Russell J. Webster, Nicolette Morrone, Matt Motyl, Ravi Iyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


People differ greatly in their beliefs in pure good (BPG) and beliefs in pure evil (BPE), but little is known about how people develop such beliefs. In two studies using nationwide convenience samples (Ns = 384 and 345), we used trait (Big 5; HEXACO) and moral (moral foundations theory; Kohlberg's theory of moral development) theories to uncover potential underpinnings of BPG and BPE. After controlling for demographics and ideology, traits (Agreeableness) and moral foundations (Care/Harm) reliably predicted BPG in both studies. The Big 5 and HEXACO more inconsistently predicted BPE, although lower Openness related to BPE across both studies. Greater endorsement of the Authority/Subversion and Sanctity/Degradation moral foundations uniquely predicted greater BPE across both studies. Further, BPE correlated with (but did not uniquely predict) lower postconventional moral thinking; BPG did not relate to postconventional moral thinking. These results should help researchers formulate more specified developmental pathways for BPE and BPG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110584
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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