Threats to Moral Identity: Testing the Effects of Incentives and Consequences of One's Actions on Moral Cleansing

Ethics and Behavior 23 (2):133-147 (2013)
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Abstract

Individuals engage in moral cleansing, a compensatory process to reaffirm one's moral identity, when one's moral self-concept is threatened. However, too much moral cleansing can license individuals to engage in future unethical acts. This study examined the effects of incentives and consequences of one's actions on cheating behavior and moral cleansing. Results found that incentives and consequences interacted such that unethical thoughts were especially threatening, resulting in more moral cleansing, when large incentives to cheat were present and cheating explicitly harmed others. Implications are discussed in terms of ethics training, using incentives as motivators, and the depersonalized norms of science

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