Good intentions aren't good enough: Moral courage in opposing sexual harassment

Rachael Goodwin, Jesse Graham, Kristina A. Diekmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


People may intend to call out or report sexual harassment but fail to do so when actually encountering it. In one exploratory study and one preregistered confirmatory study, more participants intended to take action against harassing behavior they encountered online than actually did so. Informed by Halmburger, Baumert, and Schmitt's (2016) integrative model of moral courage, we examined several individual difference variables (gender, trait moral courage, narcissism, agreeableness, and moral foundations) and one situational variable (multiple opportunities to report) that we argue play an important role in taking morally courageous action against sexual harassment. We found that women were more likely than men to report sexual harassment. We also found that trait moral courage measured as ability to interpret, and willingness to violate, social norms positively predicted reporting and confronting the harassment better than trait moral courage measured as gauging moral goals and moral identity more generally. We explored the role of agreeableness and moral foundations and found that while agreeableness did not predict confronting, it did predict reporting the harassment; fairness moral concerns positively predicted whether observers reported and confronted, while loyalty moral concerns negatively predicted reporting and confronting. Multiple regression analyses indicate that trait moral courage (positively) and narcissism (negatively) are the most consistent unique predictors of behaviors combatting sexual harassment. Combined, our results provide insights into the psychological processes involved in the moral courage to oppose sexual harassment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103894
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Confronting
  • Moral courage
  • Observers
  • Reporting
  • Sexual harassment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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