Cheating May Lead to Moral Disengagement and Motivated Forgetting
Abstract (via Francescagino)
People routinely engage in dishonest acts without feeling guilty about their behavior. When and why does this occur? Across four studies, people justified their dishonest deeds through moral disengagement and exhibited motivated forgetting of information that might otherwise limit their dishonesty. Using hypothetical scenarios (Studies 1 and 2) and real tasks involving the opportunity to cheat (Studies 3 and 4), we find that one’s own dishonest behavior increased moral disengagement and motivated forgetting of moral rules. Such changes did not occur in the case of honest behavior or consideration of the dishonest behavior of others. In addition, increasing moral saliency by having participants read or sign and honor code significantly reduced unethical behavior and prevented subsequent moral disengagement. While dishonest behavior motivated moral leniency and led to forgetting of moral rules, honest behavior motivated moral stringency and diligent recollection of moral rules.
Excerpt via Conclusion
We show that seemingly innocuous aspects of the environment can promote the decision to act honestly or dishonestly. Such decision then sets off subsequent changes in moral beliefs, which in turn predict future behavior. By linking the steps between situation, behavior, and belief, we demonstrate how each component affects the others. Even small drops may lead to ripples of change.