Exposure to Moral Relativism Compromises Moral Behavior
Tage Rai & Keith Holyoak
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
November 2013, Pages 995–1001
Abstract: Across two studies we investigated the relationship between moral relativism versus absolutism and moral behavior. In Experiment 1, we found that participants who read a relativist argument for tolerating female genital mutilation were more likely to cheat to win an incentivized raffle than participants who read an absolutist argument against female genital mutilation, or those in a control condition. In Experiment 2, participants who read a definition of morality phrased in absolutist terms expressed less willingness to engage in petty theft than those who read a definition of morality phrased in relativist terms, or those in a control condition. Experiment 2 also provided evidence that effects were not due to absolutist arguments signaling that fewer behaviors are morally permissible, nor to relativist arguments defending more disagreeable moral positions. Rather, the content of the philosophical positions themselves — the fact that relativism describes morality as subjective and culturally-historically contingent, whereas absolutism describes morality as objective and universal — makes individuals more likely to engage in immoral behaviors when exposed to moral relativism compared to moral absolutism.
Moral Cleansing and Moral Licenses: Experimental Evidence
Pablo Brañas-Garza et al.
Economics and Philosophy, July 2013, Pages 199-212
Abstract: Research on moral cleansing and moral self-licensing has introduced dynamic considerations in the theory of moral behaviour. Past bad actions trigger negative feelings that make people more likely to engage in future moral behaviour to offset them. Symmetrically, past good deeds favour a positive self-perception that creates licensing effects, leading people to engage in behaviour that is less likely to be moral. In short, a deviation from a ‘normal state of being’ is balanced with a subsequent action that compensates the prior behaviour. We model the decision of an individual trying to reach the optimal level of moral self-worth over time and show that under certain conditions the optimal sequence of actions follows a regular pattern which combines good and bad actions. To explore this phenomenon we conduct an economic experiment where subjects play a sequence of giving decisions (dictator games). We find that donations in the previous period affect present decisions and the sign is negative: participants' behaviour in every round is negatively correlated to what they did in the past. Hence donations over time seem to be the result of a regular pattern of self-regulation: moral licensing (being selfish after altruistic) and cleansing (altruistic after selfish).
Nod to Kevin Lewis