Moral Vitalism: Seeing Good and Evil as Real, Agentic Forces

Brock Bastian, Paul Bain, Michael D. Buhrmester, Ángel Gómez, Alexandra Vázquez, Clinton G. Knight, William B. Swann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)


Moral vitalism refers to a tendency to view good and evil as actual forces that can influence people and events. We introduce a scale designed to assess the belief in moral vitalism. High scorers on the scale endorse items such as “There are underlying forces of good and evil in this world.” After establishing the reliability and criterion validity of the scale (Studies 1, 2a, and 2b), we examined the predictive validity of the moral vitalism scale, showing that “moral vitalists” worry about being possessed by evil (Study 3), being contaminated through contact with evil people (Study 4), and forfeiting their own mental purity (Study 5). We discuss the nature of moral vitalism and the implications of the construct for understanding the role of metaphysical lay theories about the nature of good and evil in moral reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1081
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number8
Early online date18 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


  • contagion
  • essentialism
  • evil
  • morality
  • spirit possession
  • vitalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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