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A social psychological view of morality: why knowledge of situational influences on behaviour can improve character development practices

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Results from research in social psychology, such as findings about the fundamental attribution error and other situational influences on behaviour, are often used to justify attacking the existence of character traits. From this perspective, character development is an illusion, an impossibility, or both. We offer a different interpretation of how these issues interact with character development concerns. Rather than undermining the very idea of character traits, social psychology actually sheds light on the manner in which character development can occur. It reaffirms Spinozistic and Aristotelian points about character, namely that: (1) knowledge of the fundamental attribution error can help us minimize the influence environment and situation have on our behaviour, and (2) proper habituation only takes place in appropriately structured environments. Acknowledging these important results from social psychology helps us improve some of our character education practices rather than destroying their basis.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: United States Air Force Academy USA

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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