Broken bad

Kevin Lewis

June 19, 2018

Two-Faced Morality: Distrust Promotes Divergent Moral Standards for the Self Versus Others
Alexa Weiss, Pascal Burgmer & Thomas Mussweiler
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


People do not trust hypocrites, because they preach water, but drink wine. The current research shows that, ironically, when we distrust, we become moral hypocrites ourselves. We argue that experiencing distrust alerts us to the possibility that others may intend to exploit us, and that such looming exploitation differentially affects moral standards for the self versus others. Four studies (N = 1,225) examined this possibility and its underlying motivational dynamic. Study 1 established a relationship between dispositional distrust and flexible, self-serving moral cognition. In Studies 2 and 3, participants experiencing distrust (vs. trust) endorsed more lenient moral standards for themselves than for others. Study 4 explored the role of the motivation to avoid exploitation in these effects. Specifically, participants’ dispositional victim sensitivity moderated the effect of distrust on hypocrisy. Together, these findings suggest that individuals who distrust and fear to be exploited show self-serving, and hence untrustworthy, moral cognition themselves.

Guilt Dynamics: Consequences of Temporally Separating Decisions and Actions
Kristen Duke & On Amir
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


The current research demonstrates that temporally separating a consumer’s initial decision to perform a guilt-inducing action from its actual enactment reduces the guilt felt while acting. This hypothesis follows from the development of a dynamic model that unpacks guilt into two distinct components. Initially, one experiences decision guilt accompanying the decision to act or the realization that one will act; subsequently, one experiences action guilt while engaging in the guilt-inducing behavior. Four experiments and two pilot studies reveal that introducing a temporal “decision-enactment gap” enables decision guilt to decay in this interim period, which lowers the overall guilt experienced upon acting. In line with the self-regulative function of guilt, decision-enactment gaps also increase indulgent consumption and decrease post-behavior atonement. This decoupling process can thus alleviate guilt that might otherwise detract from experiences, but may come at a cost to self-control efforts. The authors discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.

Why Consumers Don't See the Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods, and What Marketers Can Do About it
Sean Hingston & Theodore Noseworthy
Journal of Marketing, forthcoming


Evidence from four studies suggests that the moral opposition towards genetically modified (GM) foods impedes the perception of their benefits, and critically, marketers can circumvent this moral opposition by employing subtle cues to position these products as being manmade. Specifically, if consumers view the GM food as manmade and if they understand why it was created, moral opposition to the product diminishes, and the GM food's perceived benefits increase, which subsequently increases purchase intentions for the product. This effect is replicated in the field (in both controlled and naturalistic settings), in a laboratory experiment, and with an online consumer panel. The results suggest that marketers can help consumers better consider all information when assessing the merits of GM foods by using packaging and promotion strategies to cue consumers to view the GM food for what it is (i.e., a manmade object created with intent). The findings have implications for the recent GM food labeling debate.

Much ado about nothing: The zero effect in life‐saving decisions
Yufeng Zhang & Paul Slovic
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, forthcoming


Zero is a special value in our daily lives, and previous research on how zero values affect decision making leaves many questions to be explored. The present research examined the zero effect in life‐saving decisions and found that people expressed strong preferences for options offering a possibility that no one will die, even when the expected loss was relatively high. The prominence effect (the notion that the option with possibly zero deaths is easy to defend and justify) was proposed as one possible explanation. Furthermore, we also found that the zero effect in these life‐saving decisions occurs only in loss framing rather than gain framing. We discuss the relationships between the zero effect, framing, and evaluation mode in life saving and other domains.

High stakes: A little more cheating, a lot less charity
Zoe Rahwan et al.
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming


We explore the downstream consequences of cheating - and resisting the temptation to cheat - at high stakes on pro-social behaviour and self-perceptions. In a large online sample, we replicate the seminal finding that cheating rates are largely insensitive to stake size, even at a 500-fold increase. We present two new findings. First, resisting the temptation to cheat at high stakes led to negative moral spill-over, triggering a moral license: participants who resisted cheating in the high stakes condition subsequently donated a smaller fraction of their earnings to charity. Second, participants who cheated maximally mispredicted their perceived morality: although such participants thought they were less prone to feeling immoral if they cheated, they ended up feeling more immoral a day after the cheating task than immediately afterwards. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings on moral balancing and self-deception, and the practical relevance for organisational design.

No gain without pain: The psychological costs of dishonesty
Isabel Thielmann & Benjamin Hilbig
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming 


Psychological accounts of dishonesty propose that lying incurs subjective costs due to threating individuals’ moral self-image. However, evidence is restricted to indirect tests of such costs, thus limiting strong conclusions about corresponding theories. We present a more direct test of the costs of lying. Specifically, if lying is psychologically costly, individuals should feel entitled to gains they obtained through dishonesty - similar to those they actually earned through getting lucky or even investing effort. Correspondingly, in three experiments, we compared individuals’ willingness to share in the dictator game, with varying mechanisms generating the to-be-shared endowment: getting lucky, exerting (cognitive) effort, and lying. We consistently found that individuals were at least as unwilling to share an endowment obtained through dishonesty as an endowment obtained through individual effort or true luck. This suggests that individuals perceived gains obtained through dishonesty as “hard-earned”, thus directly supporting the theory that lying involves psychological costs.

The true trigger of shame: Social devaluation is sufficient, wrongdoing is unnecessary
Theresa Robertson et al.
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming


What is the trigger of shame? The information threat theory holds that shame is an evolved adaptation that is designed to limit the likelihood and costs of others forming negative beliefs about the self. By contrast, attributional theories posit that concerns over others' evaluations are irrelevant to shame. Instead, shame is triggered when a person attributes a negative outcome to their self, rather than to a particular act or circumstance. We conduct a strong test of the information threat hypothesis. In Study 1, participants imagined taking an action that, though morally unimpeachable, could be interpreted unfavorably by others. As predicted by the information threat theory, shame increased with the publicity of this act. In Study 2, participants played a public good game and then learned that the other participants either chose to keep interacting with them (inclusion) or not (exclusion) - ostensibly because of their contributions, but in fact randomly determined by the experimenter. Exclusion increased shame. Under-contribution did not. In fact, even the highest contributors tended to feel shame when excluded. These findings strongly suggest that the true trigger of shame is the prospect or actuality of being devalued by others.

It's not what you do, but what everyone else does: On the role of descriptive norms and subjectivism in moral judgment
Andrew Monroe et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2018, Pages 1-10


How do people evaluate moral actions, by referencing objective rules or by appealing to subjective, descriptive norms of behavior? Five studies examined whether and how people incorporate subjective, descriptive norms of behavior into their moral evaluations and mental state inferences of an agent's actions. We used experimental norm manipulations (Studies 1-2, 4), cultural differences in tipping norms (Study 3), and behavioral economic games (Study 5). Across studies, people increased the magnitude of their moral judgments when an agent exceeded a descriptive norm and decreased the magnitude when an agent fell below a norm (Studies 1-4). Moreover, this differentiation was partially explained via perceptions of agents' desires (Studies 1-2); it emerged only when the agent was aware of the norm (Study 4); and it generalized to explain decisions of trust for real monetary stakes (Study 5). Together, these findings indicate that moral actions are evaluated in relation to what most other people do rather than solely in relation to morally objective rules.

The Link Between Self-Dehumanization and Immoral Behavior
Maryam Kouchaki et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


People perceive morality to be distinctively human, with immorality representing a lack of full humanness. In eight experiments, we examined the link between immorality and self-dehumanization, testing both (a) the causal role of immoral behavior on self-dehumanization and (b) the causal role of self-dehumanization on immoral behavior. Studies 1a to 1d showed that people feel less human after behaving immorally and that these effects were not driven by having a negative experience but were unique to experiences of immorality (Study 1d). Studies 2a to 2c showed that self-dehumanization can lead to immoral and antisocial behavior. Study 3 highlighted how self-dehumanization can sometimes produce downward spirals of immorality, demonstrating initial unethical behavior leading to self-dehumanization, which in turn promotes continued dishonesty. These results demonstrate a clear relationship between self-dehumanization and unethical behavior, and they extend previous theorizing on dehumanization.

How much blame does he truly deserve? Historicist narratives engender uncertainty about blameworthiness, facilitating motivated cognition in moral judgment
Michael Gill & Nick Ungson
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2018, Pages 11-23


When reprehensible conduct is explicable in terms of the offender's life history or underlying biology, blame is mitigated. Despite their shared capacity for blame mitigation, here we focus on differences between historical and biological explanations for bad conduct. We argue that historical explanations generate greater uncertainty about blameworthiness than do biological explanations. They do so because they have both competing and tentative implications regarding agent control. Furthermore, we argue that the blame uncertainty engendered by historical explanations enables motivated cognition in the blame process. We provide evidence for these claims in four studies. In Study 1, we show that computer mouse trajectories are less direct - suggesting uncertainty - when blame assessments are made in cases of historical as compared to biological causation. Studies 2, 3, and 4 test our claims regarding susceptibility to biased cognition. Predisposition to blame was measured in Studies 2 and 3 and manipulated in Study 4. In all studies, predisposition to blame was more potent in shaping blame judgments in cases of historical as compared to biological causation. Evidence suggests that this happened because cases of historical causation are relatively amenable to divergent construals regarding agent control, whereas the implications of biological causation are more definitive. Discussion centers on the importance of motivation - a “merciful mindset” - for effecting blame mitigation in cases where the offender has endured an unfortunate life history.

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