Evidence That It Works
In one study, students played a game where they could cheat to earn some cash. Researchers randomly assigned participants to two conditions, presenting each group with the same instructions. However, the language used differed regarding cheating—either emphasizing the actor’s identity (e.g., “Please don’t be a cheater”) or the action (e.g., “Please don’t cheat”). Participants in the action condition (e.g., “cheating”) claimed more money than those in the actor condition (e.g., “cheater”), who showed no evidence of having cheated.
In another study, researchers introduced children to the idea of “being a helper” (noun condition) or “helping” (verb condition). When children had the opportunity to help an adult. those in the noun condition engaged in more helping behavior when compared to children in the verb condition.
Why Does It Matter?
Moral identity, which refers to the importance that people place on moral behavior as a key part of their identity, has been linked to greater well-being, meaning in life, cooperativeness, and a sense of being part of something larger than oneself. If we honor students’ moral identities in the classroom, we can help create more effective and welcoming learning environments, encouraging qualities like honesty and humility as well as helping behaviors. This allows students to focus more on authentic learning rather than simply looking smart—and on supporting instead of competing with one another.