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The cultural salience of moral character and virtue declined in twentieth century America


Journal of Positive Psychology


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Kesebir S;Kesebir P


Publication Year



In a large corpus of American books, we tracked how frequently words related to moral excellence and virtue appeared over the twentieth century. Considering the well-established cultural trend in the USA toward greater individualism and its implications for the moral domain, we predicted that terms related to morality and virtue 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 twentieth 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 twentieth century, moral ideals and virtues have largely waned from the public conversation.

Available on ECCH


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