How do you form your impressions of others? What qualities count most? What characteristics are deemed fundamental to identity?
Researchers Goodwin, Piazza and Rozin, of the University of Pennsylvania, considered two categories of personality traits. A sociable, happy, agreeable, funny and playful person was considered “warm.” By contrast, a courageous, fair, principled, responsible and honest person was considered “moral.”
Their study, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concludes that morality beats social warmth in impression formation. A person’s moral character is considered to be more fundamental to their identity than whether they are warm. Overall, people thought of as having good moral character are viewed more positively than those thought of as warm.
Moral character is central to how people judge one another in important matters, such as relationships and competence. When someone is fair and honest, we believe that it is a quality that constitutes their very essence. Warmth may come and go, but moral character is more consistent and reliable. Goodwin shows that most think that being responsible and principled is more important than friendliness or having a sense of humor.