Does Virtue Lead to Status? Testing the Moral Virtue Theory of Status Attainment

Feng Bai, Ching Chi Ho, Jin Yan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The authors perform one of the first empirical tests of the moral virtue theory of status attainment (MVT), a conceptual framework for showing that morality leads to status. Studies 1a to 1d are devoted to developing and validating a 15-item status attainment scale (SAS) to measure how virtue leads to admiration (virtue-admiration), how dominance leads to fear (dominance-fear), and how competence leads to respect (competence-respect). Studies 2a and 2b are an exploration of the nomological network and discriminant validity to show that peer-reported virtue-admiration is positively related to moral character and perceptions such as perceived warmth and unrelated to amoral constructs such as neuroticism. In addition, virtue-admiration mediates the positive effect of several self-reported moral character traits, such as moral identity-internalization, on status conferral. Study 3 supports the external validity of the virtue route to status in a sample of fulltime managers from China. In Study 4, a preregistered experiment, virtue evokes superior status while selfishness evokes inferior status. Perceivers who are high in moral character show stronger perceptions of superior status. Finally, Study 5, another preregistered experiment, shows that virtue leads to higher status through inducing virtue-admiration rather than competence-respect, even for incompetent actors. The findings provide initial support for MVT arguing that virtue is a distinct, third route to status.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Admiration
  • Moral character
  • Morality
  • Status
  • Virtue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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