Moral cleansing as hypocrisy: When private acts of charity make you feel better than you deserve

O'Connor, K, Effron, D and Lucas, B J (2020) Moral cleansing as hypocrisy: When private acts of charity make you feel better than you deserve. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119 (3). pp. 540-559. ISSN 0022-3514 OPEN ACCESS


What counts as hypocrisy? Current theorizing emphasizes that people see hypocrisy when an individual sends them “false signals” about his or her morality (Jordan, Sommers, Bloom, & Rand, 2017); indeed, the canonical hypocrite acts more virtuously in public than in private. An alternative theory posits that people see hypocrisy when an individual enjoys “undeserved moral benefits,” such as feeling more virtuous than his or her behavior merits, even when the individual has not sent false signals to others (Effron, O’Connor, Leroy, & Lucas, 2018). This theory predicts that acting less virtuously in public than in private can seem hypocritical by indicating that individuals have used good deeds to feel less guilty about their public sins than they should. Seven experiments (N = 3,468 representing 64 nationalities) supported this prediction. Participants read about a worker in a “sin industry” who secretly performed good deeds. When the individual’s public work (e.g., selling tobacco) was inconsistent with, versus unrelated to, the good deeds (e.g., anonymous donations to an anti-smoking cause vs. an anti-obesity cause), participants perceived him as more hypocritical, which in turn predicted less praise for his good deeds. Participants also inferred that the individual was using the inconsistent good deeds to cleanse his conscience for his public work, and such moral cleansing appeared hypocritical when it successfully alleviated his guilt. These results broaden and deepen understanding about how lay people conceptualize hypocrisy. Hypocrisy does not require appearing more virtuous than you are; it suffices to feel more virtuous than you deserve.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Organisational Behaviour
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© 2020 American Psychological Association. This article may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It is not the copy of record.

Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2020 19:31
Date of first compliant deposit: 15 Apr 2020
Subjects: Behavioural theories of management
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2024 01:40
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