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Public Integrity, Private Hypocrisy, and the Moral Licensing Effect

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Researchers indicate that there are moral regulatory patterns in human behavior, such that individuals feel licensed to act unethically after establishing moral credentials and feel a need to compensate morally after committing transgressions. In the present study we examined how public or private context influences subsequent licensing and compensatory behavior. An online survey was administered to 99 undergraduates who were asked to recall moral credentials or deficits and then evaluate vignettes depicting public or private transgressions. Consistent with past research, credentialed participants were significantly more likely to behave unethically than were participants with moral deficits. However, this licensing effect occurred only for private transgressions and was absent when behavior was public. Our findings suggest that prior establishment of credentials and private context are both prerequisites to the moral licensing effect.
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Keywords: COMPENSATION; HYPOCRISY; INTEGRITY; MORAL LICENSING; MORAL REGULATION; PRIVATE CONTEXT; PUBLIC CONTEXT; TRANSGRESSIONS

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2014

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