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Exploring the Moral Identity of Recent Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates

March 11, 2021

Exploring the Moral Identity of Recent Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates

David Craig

NORMAN, OKLA. – David Craig, President’s Associates Presidential Professor and associate dean in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, leads a national research team studying the moral psychology and ethical development of recent graduates from Gaylord College and other top programs across the country. The study explores moral identity among recent U.S. graduates in media-related fields in emerging adulthood, defined as ages 18 to 29, through a multi-year longitudinal study.

“This research occupies an interesting intersection,” Craig said. “There is a huge amount of work that has been done in the last couple of decades in psychology and other fields about emerging adulthood…a time that researchers have identified as an important point of transition in life.”

The first phase of the study makes use of survey data analyzing the results for 110 graduates who completed an online survey regarding their personality traits, virtuous character, moral reasoning, and ethical ideology. The research team said it constitutes the first detailed portrait of moral identity of emerging adults in media-related fields and contributes to both media ethics scholarship and scholarship on emerging adulthood.

Similarly, Craig said, their study is relevant for media managers because “it gives them insight about the lives and perspectives of recent graduates starting their careers.”

“For scholars in my field of media ethics, there’s a growing interest in moral psychology and looking at the various aspects of the moral self,” he said. “We hope we can gain some insight that will add to understanding in our field and more broadly the moral profile and perspectives of emerging adults and how that develops and changes as they go deeper into work life, how work-life shapes them and how they shape work-life.”

Ed Kelley, dean of Gaylord College, said the research “not only will have resonance in JMC education, but as importantly, for the media industry we serve.”

The researchers found that the emerging adults who participated in the study demonstrate “a moderately above-average moral reasoning ability and high levels of idealism…are relativistic in their thinking, tending to be skeptical of universal moral principles.” Further, “they appear to be more conscientious and more open to new experiences than average.”

Subsequent interviews with some of the study participants, many occurring virtually during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, will add new dimensions that will inform future research.

“Part of this is about how their character strengths manifest and how they show traits like perseverance, courage and learning humility,” Craig said. “We’re really interested to see how that plays out in the context of the pandemic.”

The Media Ethics Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) recognized the team with a top faculty paper award at its annual convention in 2020. The study, “Moving Into the Media World: The Moral Psychology of Emerging Adults in Journalism and Communication” was published in the journal, Journalism and Mass Communication Educator.

Support for the study was provided by the John Templeton Foundation through OU’s Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, and by the Inasmuch Foundation, among others. The research team is comprised of scholars from OU, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Missouri, the University of Alabama and Quinnipiac University.