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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Alyssa Scirocco, Education

Mindset and Morality: Adolescents' Implicit Theories of Morality

Thursday, December 16, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


In adolescents’ everyday interactions, it is inevitable that they encounter morally-laden events. Arguably, adolescents’ essentialist vs. incremental moral mindsets, or whether they perceive moral qualities and traits as fixed or malleable, might be linked to how they make sense of moral experiences. In two studies, this dissertation examined links between mindsets and youths’ constructions of meaning about their own and others’ moral experiences. Both studies were based on a sample of 98 adolescents from the Montreal area. Study 1 investigated how adolescents’ moral mindsets varied across contexts depicting others’ prosocial and antisocial actions that were recurrent or nonrecurrent, as well as their judgments of others. Youth endorsed moral essentialism more in the prosocial domain. When youth made essentialist attributions in prosocial situations, they judged actors as more likable, their actions as more acceptable, and endorsed more praise and “good person” attributions. In antisocial situations, essentialism was linked to judging actors as more unlikable, their actions as more unacceptable, more endorsement of punishment, and “bad person” attributions. Study 2 examined how moral mindsets were linked to youths’ narrative accounts of their own morally-laden experiences and how these associations might differ across experiences in which youth described acting consistently and inconsistently with an important value. Individual differences in moral incrementalism were associated with adolescents’ construction of meanings in their narratives. Adolescents who endorsed moral incrementalism referred more to moral emotions, elaborated more on psychological interpretations, and engaged in more meaning-making in their narratives. Furthermore, moral incrementalism was inversely linked with disengagement when youth narrated a time they acted inconsistently with a moral value. Both studies illuminate how moral mindsets are applied in nuanced ways across situations. Findings suggest that moral essentialism might be especially variable across contexts, and informs situation-specific ways in which adolescents make judgments of others. In turn, individual differences in moral incrementalism were more strongly associated with adolescents’ own moral self-constructions. This research contributes to scholarship on moral mindset during a crucial developmental period by illuminating inter- and intra-individual differences in adolescents’ judgments about others as well as meaning-making in relation to their own moral experiences.

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