I haven’t gotten to the actual research paper yet, but this
is sufficiently interesting that I wanted to put up a quick post about
it. Live Science has an article about some research, showing
that persons who think of themselves as righteous are, in some
circumstances, the most likely to cheat.
Morally upstanding people are the
do-gooders of society, right? Actually, a new study finds that a 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.
Stop us if this sounds familiar.
OK, I’ll stop you. It does sound familiar.
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 results recall the seeming disconnect between the
words and actions of folks like televangelist and fraud convict Jim
Bakker or admitted meth-buyer Ted Haggard, former president of the
National Evangelical Association, an umbrella group representing some
“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.”
Is there any way for a person to know, objectively, if he or she is
ethical, by pure introspection?