Date of Completion


Embargo Period



moral exemplars, morality, motivation, inspiration, moral failures

Major Advisor

Colin W. Leach

Associate Advisor

Felicia Pratto

Associate Advisor

Crystal Park

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Psychological research on moral exemplars presents them as near perfect, focusing on their impeccable character and accomplishments. However, just like anybody else, they also have imperfections that are usually unrecognized by psychological research. The aim of this dissertation is to examine the implications of studying moral exemplars as if they are perfect. I will argue that focusing only on the positive qualities of moral exemplars, and ignoring the important ways that failures may have contributed to their development, imply an entity theory of morality where only certain perfect people possess unchangeable moral traits. In Chapter I, I provide an overview of psychological research on morality and moral exemplars, showing how they imply an entity theory of morality, and explore the potential consequences of this implication. In Chapter II, I present the results of series of studies that examine how individual react when they find out about the failures of their moral exemplars. Throughout six experiments, the results show that whereas finding out about the failure of a moral exemplar undermines them as a moral model, participants are inspired by the moral exemplar if the failure leads to growth and learning. In Chapter III, I propose four studies that aim to demonstrate that imperfect exemplars may also be important in applied educational settings. Specifically, I propose using imperfect exemplars in a sexual assault prevention leadership training program, arguing that imperfect exemplars may be particularly inspiring for participants who confront their past failures.