Like many Patriots fans, I’ve been suffering from an acute case of cognitive dissonance ever since I learned about Bill Belichick’s taping habits. On the one hand, I know cheating is wrong. On the other hand, winning sure feels good. The end result is that I deftly rationalize away the sin, and come up with all sorts of elaborate reasons why videotaping defensive signals doesn’t really matter. (Everybody does it. Well, everybody would do it if they were smart enough. The Pats would have beaten the Jets anyways. It was really the Jets fault for making their signals so damn obvious.)
But it turns out I’m not the only ethically dubious sports fan:
According to a 1999 study by psychologists at Murray State, a significant minority of fans–if guaranteed anonymity–would even support injuring an opposing player or coach.
How would Haidt explain my moral muddiness? Examples of cheating seem to reverse his social intuitionist model of moral decision-making, in which the emotional brain comes up with a visceral judgment which the rational “rider” then has to justify. When I think about the Pats, my competitive emotions don’t seem to really care about the scandal. Sure, it’s unfair, but my team benefited from the unfairness. My rational brain, however, is well aware that cheating is wrong, even if you’re cheating the New York Jets.