sense of moral superiority might lead them to rationalize bad behavior, turning
them into cheats, a new research claims. The new study finds that the sense of
moral superiority can lead to unethical acts, such as cheating. In fact, some of
the best do-gooders can become the worst cheats.
When asked to describe
themselves, most people typically will rattle off a list of physical features
and activities (for example, “I do yoga” or “I’m a
paralegal”). But some people have what scientists call a moral identity,
in which the answer to the question would include phrases like “I am
honest” and “I am a caring person”.
Past research has suggested
that people who describe themselves with words such as honest and generous are
also more likely to engage in volunteer work and other socially responsible
But often in life, the
line between right and wrong becomes blurry, particularly when it comes to
cheating on a test or in the workplace. For example, somebody could rationalise
cheating on a test as a way of achieving their dream of becoming a doctor and
In the new
study, detailed in the November issue of the ‘Journal of Applied
Psychology’, researchers find that when this line between right and wrong
is ambiguous among people who think of themselves as having high moral
standards, the do-gooders can become the worst of cheaters.
“The principle we
uncovered is that when faced with a moral decision, those with a strong moral
identity choose their fate (for good or for bad) and then the moral identity
drives them to pursue that fate to the extreme,” said researcher Scott
Reynolds of the University of Washington Business School in Seattle. “So
it makes sense that this principle would help explain what makes the greatest of
saints and the foulest of hypocrites.”
Why would a person who thinks
of himself as honest cheat? The researchers suggest an “ethical
person” could view cheating as an OK thing to do, justifying the act as a
means to a moral end.
Reynolds put it: “If I cheat, then I’ll get into graduate school,
and if I get into graduate school, then I can become a doctor and think about
all the people I’m going to help when I’m a
people have a strong moral identity, they think of themselves as great moral
people, their behavior tends to go to the extremes,” Reynolds said.
A competitive playing field,
whether at a university or business, can also motivate cheating behaviors.
“Cheating is a way to
get ahead in a competitive environment where there are rewards for winning or
getting ahead of others,” said Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist
at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the current study.
“It seems like there is an increasing desire and expectation in our
society to ‘be the best’.”
Via Times of India