Saturday, March 27, 2010

Infallibility means never having to do the right thing

And so, as the Vatican’s treatment its own paedophile priests makes David Cameron’s and William Hague’s incuriosity about Lord Ashcroft’s tax status look like waterboarding, my mind is drawn to a recent study in Psychological Science, on the concept of ‘moral balancing’.

Sonya Sachdeva and colleagues “tested the idea that a sense of moral superiority might limit additional future moral behavior”. The results of their experiments “suggest that affirming a moral identity leads people to feel licensed to act immorally”.

That is, if people feel “too moral,” they might not have sufficient incentive to engage in moral action because prosocial behavior is inherently costly to the individual. For example, people might not feel the need to donate blood or volunteer if they have already established their reputation as a moral person. This type of response can be thought of as moral licensing. People may be licensed to refrain from good behavior when they have accrued a surplus of moral currency.

I wonder.

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