A moral theory of public service motivation

Tse-Min Wang*, A. van Witteloostuijn, Florian Heine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Morality constructs the relationship between the self and others, providing a sense of appropriateness that facilitates and coordinates social behaviors. We start from Moral Foundation Theory (MFT), and argue that multiple moral domains can shape the meaning of public service and engender Public Service Motivation (PSM). From the lens of cognitive science, we develop a causal map for PSM by understanding the social cognition process underlying PSM, focusing on five innate moralities as the potential antecedents of PSM: Care, Fairness, Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity. Extending moral domains beyond compassion and justice can provide a disaggregated view of PSM, which may help to identify institutional and cultural variation in the meaning of PSM. We discuss the theoretical implications of synthesizing MFT and PSM literatures, and provide directions for future research that could improve our understanding of PSM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number517763
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • public service motivation (psm)
  • Moral Foundations Theory
  • Public Sector


Dive into the research topics of 'A moral theory of public service motivation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this