Publication

Moral hypocrisy and the hedonic shift: A goal-framing approach

Lindenberg, S., Steg, L., Milovanovic, M. & Schipper, A., Nov-2018, In : Rationality and Society. 30, 4, p. 393-419 27 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

The most investigated form of moral hypocrisy is pragmatic hypocrisy in which people fake moral commitment for their own advantage. Yet there is also a different form of hypocrisy in which people take a moral stance with regard to norms they endorse without thereby also expressing a commitment to act morally. Rather they do it in order to feel good. We call this hedonic moral hypocrisy. In our research, we posit that this kind of hypocrisy comes about when people's overarching goals are shifted in a hedonic direction, that is, in the direction of focusing on the way one feels, rather than on moral obligation. Hedonic shifts come about by cues in the environment. People are sometimes sincere when expressing a moral stance (i.e. they mean it and also act on it), and sometimes, when they are subject to a hedonic shift, they express a moral stance just to make them feel good. This also implies that they then decline to do things that make them feel bad, such as behaving morally when it takes unrewarded effort to do so. In two experimental studies, we find that there is such a thing as hedonic moral hypocrisy and that it is indeed brought about by hedonic shifts from cues in the environment. This seriously undermines the meaning of a normative consensus for norm conformity. Seemingly, for norm conformity without close social control, it is not enough that people endorse the same norms, they also have to be exposed to situational cues that counteract hedonic shifts. In the discussion, it is suggested that societal arrangements that foster the focus on the way one feels and nurture a chronic wish to make oneself feel better (for example, in the fun direction through advertisements and entertainment opportunities, or in the fear direction by populist politicians, social media, economic uncertainties, crises, or wars and displacements) are likely to increase hedonic hypocrisy in society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-419
Number of pages27
JournalRationality and Society
Volume30
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2018

    Keywords

  • Goal-framing, hedonic hypocrisy, human nature, moral behavior, moral judgments, norm conformity, personality, shifting salience effects, BEHAVIOR, EMOTION, ACTIVATION, STIMULI, FRAMES, NORMS, MOOD

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