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The Cultural Salience of Moral Character and Virtue Declined in Twentieth Century America

Journal of Positive Psychology, Forthcoming

25 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2012 Last revised: 15 Aug 2012

Pelin Kesebir

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

Selin Kesebir

London Business School

Date Written: 2012

Abstract

In a large corpus of American books, we tracked how frequently words related to moral excellence and virtue appeared over the 20th century. Considering the well-established cultural trend in the United States toward greater individualism and its implications for the moral domain, we predicted that morality and virtue terms would appear with diminishing frequency in American books. Two studies supported our predictions: Study 1 showed a decline in the use of general moral terms such as virtue, decency, and conscience throughout the 20th century. In Study 2, we examined the appearance frequency of 50 virtue words (e.g., honesty, patience, compassion) and found a significant decline for 74% of them. Overall, our findings suggest that during the 20th century, moral ideals and virtues have largely waned from the public conversation.

Keywords: virtue, morality, moral character, values, culture, culturomics

Suggested Citation

Kesebir, Pelin and Kesebir, Selin, The Cultural Salience of Moral Character and Virtue Declined in Twentieth Century America (2012). Journal of Positive Psychology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2120724

Pelin Kesebir (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds ( email )

1500 Highland Avenue, Suite S119
Waisman Center
Madison, WI 53705-2280
United States

Selin Kesebir

London Business School ( email )

Regent's Park
NW1 4SA
London
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://people.virginia.edu/~sk8dm

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