Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Education, Educational Psychology

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Matthew W. Keefer, PhD.


Cody Ding

Lisa Dorner

Joseph Polman


Testing an evolutionary framework, this study examined moral self-enhancement in relation to self-deception and self-construal in a cross-cultural context. The participants included 127 U.S. and 107 Chinese college students. The results demonstrated that moral self-enhancement is not a characteristic unique to individualistic ideology but rather a universal motivation. Regardless of their cultural groups and self-construal, participants tended to morally self-enhance, rating their own character and sense of responsibility significantly higher than those of other people. In addition, U.S. participants were more likely to morally self-enhance compared to their Chinese counterparts. At the individual level, strong independents demonstrated greater moral self-enhancement than did their strong interdependent peers among the U.S. participants, whereas greater moral self-enhancement was observed in strong interdependents but not strong independent in the Chinese sample. As hypothesized, self-deception as measured by self-deceptive enhancement (SDE) but not impression management (IM) stood out as a significant predictor of moral self-enhancement, supporting the evolutionary understanding that moral self-enhancement is an unconscious process intimately related to self-deception. Among Chinese participants, the association between moral self-enhancement and self-deception was found to be mediated through an inflated rating of others, which indicated a potential other-enhancement effect. On the one hand, results of this study regarding cultural differences in the demonstration of moral self-enhancement were in line with extant self-enhancement literature. On the other hand, the significant relationship between moral self-enhancement and self-deception as revealed in the study provided evidence against the claim that culture is the primary explanation for self-enhancement. Moral self-enhancement as a psychological adaptation to cooperation in the social environment has an evolutionary root. Findings of the study also suggested challenges facing current moral education practices.

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