Enlightened Compassion: A ‘Morally Exceptional’ Trait Between Agreeableness and Openness to Experience

Lawn, E. C. R. (University of Melbourne), Laham, S. M. (University of Melbourne), Zhao, Z. (University of Melbourne), Smilie, L. (University of Melbourne)

Moral actions are ‘exceptional’ to the extent that they are non-normative—i.e., more inclusive, costly, difficult, innovative, or effective. Such exceptionality is vital to ensuring continual moral progress. Yet, individuals differ in their tendency to perform exceptional moral actions, prompting the question: who are the morally exceptional? In the extant Big Five literature, Agreeableness (and to a lesser extent, Openness to Experience) has been linked to pro outgroup-oriented concerns, whilst Openness to Experience (and to a lesser extent, Agreeableness) predicts pro nature-oriented concerns. Merging these literatures, we suggest these effects may be driven by the correlated sub-traits of Compassion (an aspect of Agreeableness) and Openness (an aspect of Openness to Experience). We label their covariance ‘enlightened compassion (EC)’, or the tendency to be inclusive. In this talk, I will present replicable findings across five studies examining the construct validity of EC (total N = 1,914). I will show that the overlap of Compassion and Openness is well described by a set of novel items designed to measure EC, and that EC consistently converges with self-reported measures of inclusiveness (e.g., moral expansiveness; self-transcendence). Upcoming studies investigating EC’s relation with inclusive behaviour, and other dimensions of moral exceptionality, are also discussed.

Event Timeslots (1)

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Moral Psychology Symposium