Nudging the Better Angels of Our Nature: A Field Experiment on Morality and Well-Being

Adam Waytz*, Wilhelm Hofmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A field experiment examines how moral behavior, moral thoughts, and self-benefiting behavior affect daily well-being. Using experience sampling technology, we randomly grouped participants over 10 days to either behave morally, have moral thoughts, or do something positive for themselves. Participants received treatment-specific instructions in the morning of 5 days and no instructions on the other 5 control days. At each day's end, participants completed measures that examined, among others, subjective well-being, self-perceived morality and empathy, and social isolation and closeness. Full analyses found limited evidence for treatment- versus control-day differences. However, restricting analyses to occasions on which participants complied with instructions revealed treatment- versus control-day main effects on all measures, while showing that self-perceived morality and empathy toward others particularly increased in the moral deeds and moral thoughts group. These findings suggest that moral behavior, moral thoughts, and self-benefiting behavior are all effective means of boosting well-being, but only moral deeds and, perhaps surprisingly, also moral thoughts strengthen the moral self-concept and empathy. Results from an additional study assessing laypeople's predictions suggest that people do not fully intuit this pattern of results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Happiness
  • Morality
  • Subjective well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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