For good or evil

Kevin Lewis

February 25, 2016

Moral Heroes Look Up and to the Right

Jeremy Frimer & Lisa Sinclair

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, March 2016, Pages 400-410

Portraits of moral heroes often portray the hero gazing up and to the viewer’s right in part because ideologically minded followers select and propagate these images of their leaders. Study 1 found that the gaze direction of portraits of moral heroes (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr.) tend to show the hero looking up-and-right more often than chance would predict, and more often than portraits of celebrities (e.g., Elvis Presley) do. In Studies 2 and 3, we asked participants to play the role of an ideologically motivated follower, and select an image of their leader to promote the cause. Participants preferentially selected the up-and-right version. In Study 4, we found that conceptual metaphors linking directionality to personal virtues of warmth, pride, and future-mindedness helped explain why the up-and-right posture looks most heroic. Followers play an active role in advancing social causes by portraying their leaders as moral heroes.


Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior

Amos Schurr & Ilana Ritov

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 February 2016, Pages 1754–1759

Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrate that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, study 4 demonstrates that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.


Suffering and Compassion: The Links Among Adverse Life Experiences, Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behavior

Daniel Lim & David DeSteno

Emotion, March 2016, Pages 175-182

Experiencing past adversity traditionally has been linked to negative life outcomes. However, emerging evidence suggests that heterogeneity exists with respect to links between adversity and resilience, with adversity often enhancing cooperation in the face of joint suffering. Here, the authors present 2 studies designed to examine if the severity of past adversity is associated with an enduring propensity for empathy-mediated compassion, and, if so, whether the resulting compassion directly is, in turn, linked to behavior meant to relieve the suffering of others. Using both MTurk and laboratory-based paradigms, the authors find that increasing severity of past adversity predicts increased empathy, which in turn, is linked to a stable tendency to feel compassion for others in need. In addition, they demonstrate that the resulting individual differences in compassion appear to engender behavioral responses meant to assist others (i.e., charitable giving, helping a stranger).


When are Do-Gooders Treated Badly? Legitimate Power, Role Expectations, and Reactions to Moral Objection in Organizations

Ned Wellman et al.

Journal of Applied Psychology, forthcoming

Organization members who engage in “moral objection” by taking a principled stand against ethically questionable activities help to prevent such activities from persisting. Unfortunately, research suggests that they also may be perceived as less warm (i.e., pleasant, nice) than members who comply with ethically questionable procedures. In this article, we draw on role theory to explore how legitimate power influences observers’ responses to moral objection. We argue that individuals expect those high in legitimate power to engage in moral objection, but expect those low in legitimate power to comply with ethically questionable practices. We further propose that these contrasting role expectations influence the extent to which moral objectors are perceived as warm and subjected to social sanctions (i.e., insults, pressure, unfriendly behavior). We test our predictions with 3 experiments. Study 1, which draws on participants’ prior workplace experiences, supports the first section of our mediated moderation model in which the negative association between an actor’s moral objection (vs. compliance) and observers’ warmth perceptions is weaker when the actor is high rather than low in legitimate power and this effect is mediated by observers’ met role expectations. Study 2, an online experiment featuring a biased hiring task, reveals that the warmth perceptions fostered by the Behavior × Legitimate Power interaction influence observers’ social sanctioning intentions. Finally, Study 3, a laboratory experiment which exposes participants to unethical behavior in a virtual team task, replicates Study 2’s findings and extends the results to actual as well as intended social sanctions.


When Ethical Leader Behavior Breaks Bad: How Ethical Leader Behavior Can Turn Abusive via Ego Depletion and Moral Licensing

Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin, Jingjing Ma & Russell Johnson

Journal of Applied Psychology, forthcoming

The literature to date has predominantly focused on the benefits of ethical leader behaviors for recipients (e.g., employees and teams). Adopting an actor-centric perspective, in this study we examined whether exhibiting ethical leader behaviors may come at some cost to leaders. Drawing from ego depletion and moral licensing theories, we explored the potential challenges of ethical leader behavior for actors. Across 2 studies which employed multiwave designs that tracked behaviors over consecutive days, we found that leaders’ displays of ethical behavior were positively associated with increases in abusive behavior the following day. This association was mediated by increases in depletion and moral credits owing to their earlier displays of ethical behavior. These results suggest that attention is needed to balance the benefits of ethical leader behaviors for recipients against the challenges that such behaviors pose for actors, which include feelings of mental fatigue and psychological license and ultimately abusive interpersonal behaviors.


No Compromise: Political Consequences of Moralized Attitudes

Timothy Ryan

American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Evolutionary, neuroscientific, and cognitive perspectives in psychology have converged on the idea that some attitudes are moralized — a distinctive characteristic. Moralized attitudes reorient behavior from maximizing gains to adhering to rules. Here, I examine a political consequence of this tendency. In three studies, I measure attitude moralization and examine how it relates to approval of political compromise. I find that moralized attitudes lead citizens to oppose compromises, punish compromising politicians, and forsake material gains. These patterns emerge on economic and noneconomic issues alike and identify a psychological phenomenon that contributes to intractable political disputes.


On the misguided pursuit of happiness and ethical decision making: The roles of focalism and the impact bias in unethical and selfish behavior

Laura Noval

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, March 2016, Pages 1–16

An important body of research in the field of behavioral ethics argues that individuals behave unethically and selfishly because they want to obtain desired outcomes, such as career advancement and monetary rewards. Concurrently, a large body of literature in social psychology has shown that the subjective value of an outcome is determined by its anticipated emotional impact. Such impact has been consistently found to be overestimated both in its intensity and in its duration (i.e. impact bias) due to focalism (i.e. excessive focus on the desired outcome). Across four empirical studies, this investigation demonstrates that reducing focalism and thereby attenuating the impact bias in regards to desired outcomes decreases people’s tendency to engage in both unethical and selfish behavior to obtain those outcomes.


From Good Soldiers to Psychologically Entitled: Examining When and Why Citizenship Behavior Leads to Deviance

Kai Chi Yam et al.

Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming

Research has consistently demonstrated that organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) produce a wide array of positive outcomes for employees and organizations. Recent work, however, suggests that employees often engage in OCBs not because they want to but because they feel they have to, and it is not clear if OCBs performed for external motives have the same positive effects on individuals and organizational functioning as do traditional OCBs. In this paper, we draw from self-determination and moral licensing theories to suggest a potential negative consequence of OCB. Specifically, we argue that when employees feel compelled to engage in OCB by external forces, they will subsequently feel psychologically entitled for having gone above and beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, these feelings of entitlement can act as moral credentials that psychologically free employees to engage in both interpersonal and organizational deviance. Data from two multi-source field studies and an online experiment provide support for these hypotheses. In addition, we demonstrate that OCB-generated feelings of entitlement transcend organizational boundaries and lead to deviance outside of the organization.


Careful what you wish for: Fantasizing about revenge increases justice dissatisfaction in the chronically powerless

Meredith Lillie & Peter Strelan

Personality and Individual Differences, May 2016, Pages 290–294

Victims grappling with transgressions where justice has not been done sometimes resort to fantasizing about revenge. This may particularly be the case among people who are chronically powerless since, by definition, they are often not in a position to get justice when transgressed against. In an experimental design in which all participants (N = 84) recalled a highly hurtful and as yet unresolved transgression, participants wrote down a revenge fantasy (or not). As hypothesised, chronically powerless victims who described a revenge fantasy expressed greater dissatisfaction with the extent to which they had got justice for their transgression. The results suggest that, while people might like the idea of revenge, fantasizing about it can be deleterious for the chronically powerless.


If I am free, you can’t own me: Autonomy makes entities less ownable

Christina Starmans & Ori Friedman

Cognition, March 2016, Pages 145–153

Although people own myriad objects, land, and even ideas, it is currently illegal to own other humans. This reluctance to view people as property raises interesting questions about our conceptions of people and about our conceptions of ownership. We suggest that one factor contributing to this reluctance is that humans are normally considered to be autonomous, and autonomy is incompatible with being owned by someone else. To investigate whether autonomy impacts judgments of ownership, participants recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk read vignettes where a person paid for an entity (Experiments 1 and 3) or created it (Experiment 2). Participants were less likely to judge that the entity was owned when it was described as autonomous compared with when it was described as non-autonomous, and this pattern held regardless of whether the entity was a human or an alien (Experiments 1 and 3), a robot (Experiments 2 and 3), or a human-like biological creation (Experiment 2). The effect of autonomy was specific to judgments of whether entities were owned, and it did not influence judgments of the moral acceptability of paying for and keeping entities (Experiment 3). These experiments also found that judgments of ownership were separately impacted by ontological type, with participants less likely to judge that humans are owned compared with other kinds of entities. A fourth experiment tested a further prediction of the autonomy account, and showed that participants are more likely to view a person as owned if he willingly sells himself. Together these findings show that attributions of autonomy constrain judgments of what can be owned.


Morality in Context: A Multilevel Analysis of the Relationship between Religion and Values in Europe

Ingrid Storm

Politics and Religion, forthcoming

The exact relationship between religiosity and moral values is understudied, and it is unclear what the process of secularization means for the morality of Europeans. Previous research shows that religion is associated with low levels of political and economic development. A potential explanation is that religion provides an alternative moral authority to the authority of the state. Using data from four waves of the European Values Study 1981–2008, I analyze attitudes to personal autonomy (vs tradition) and self-interest (vs social norms) in a multilevel model of 48 European countries. The results show that religious decline has been accompanied by an increase in autonomy values, but not self-interest, that the relationship between religion and morality is stronger in more religious countries, and that it has declined since the 1980s. We also show that religiosity is more negatively associated with self-interest among people with low confidence in state authorities.


Effects of “literariness” on emotions and on empathy and reflection after reading

Eva Maria (Emy) Koopman

Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, February 2016, Pages 82-98

This study investigated the effects of foregrounding on affective responses (i.e., emotions) during reading, and on empathy and reflection after reading, using both quantitative and qualitative measures. In addition, the influence of personal factors (trait empathy, personal experience, exposure to literature) on empathy and reflection was explored. Participants (N = 142) were randomly assigned to read 1 of 3 versions of an excerpt from a literary novel about the loss of a child. Versions differed in the level of foregrounded textual features: the “original” version possessed a high level of semantic, phonetic, and grammatical foregrounding; semantic foregrounding was removed in the manipulated version “without imagery”; and semantic, phonetic and grammatical foregrounding were removed in the manipulated version “without foregrounding.” Results showed that readers who had read the “original” version scored higher on empathy after reading than those who had read the version “without foregrounding.” A quantitative analysis of qualitative data showed that participants reading the original version experienced significantly more ambivalent emotions than those in the version without foregrounding. Reflection did not seem to be influenced by foregrounding. Results suggest that personal factors may be more important in evoking reflection.


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