[Vision2020] Conservatives' Morality

Gray Tree Crab aka Big Bertha gray.treecrab.aka.big.bertha at gmail.com
Wed Dec 5 19:29:21 PST 2007

 Oddly, Hypocrisy Rooted in High Morals

By Jeanna Bryner <http://www.livescience.com/php/contactus/author.php?r=jbr>,
LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 14 November 2007 08:04 am ET

Morally upstanding people are the do-gooders of society, right? Actually, a
new study finds that a sense of moral superiority can lead to unethical
acts, such as cheating. In fact, some of the best do-gooders can become the
worst cheats.

Stop us if this sounds familiar.

When asked to describe themselves, most people typically will rattle off a
list of physical features and activities (for example, "I do yoga" or "I'm a
paralegal"). But some people have what scientists call a moral identity, in
which the answer to the question would include phrases like "I am honest"
and "I am a caring person."

Past research has suggested that people who describe themselves with words
such as honest and generous are also more likely to engage in volunteer work
and other socially responsible acts.

But often in life, the line between right and wrong becomes blurry,
particularly when it comes to cheating on a test or in the workplace. For
example, somebody could rationalize cheating on a test as a way of achieving
their dream of becoming a doctor and helping people.

* In the new study, detailed in the November issue of the Journal of Applied
Psychology, researchers find that when this line between right and wrong is
ambiguous among people who think of themselves as having high moral
standards, the do-gooders<http://www.livescience.com/health/070503_doing_good.html>can
become the worst of cheaters.

The results recall the seeming disconnect between the words and actions of
folks like televangelist and fraud convict Jim Bakker or admitted meth-buyer
Ted Haggard, former president of the National
an umbrella group representing some 45,000 churches.

"The principle we uncovered is that when faced with a moral decision, those
with a strong moral identity choose their fate (for good or for bad) and
then the moral identity drives them to pursue that fate to the extreme,"
said researcher Scott Reynolds of the University of Washington Business
School in Seattle. "So it makes sense that this principle would help explain
what makes the greatest of saints and the foulest of hypocrites."

*Why cheat? Why not?*

Why would a person who thinks of himself as honest cheat? The researchers
suggest an "ethical person" could view
cheating<http://www.livescience.com/health/060515_why_lie.html>as an
OK thing to do, justifying the act as a means to a moral end.

As Reynolds put it: "If I cheat, then I'll get into graduate school, and if
I get into graduate school, then I can become a doctor and think about all
the people I'm going to help when I'm a doctor."

A competitive playing field, whether at a university or business, can also
motivate cheating behaviors.

"Cheating is a way to get ahead in a competitive environment where there are
rewards for winning or getting ahead of others," said Daniel Kruger, an
evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, who was not
involved in the current study. "It seems like there is an increasing desire
and expectation in our society to 'be the best.'"

Even if a person doesn't justify his unethical behaviors, "cheating can save
lots of time and energy and take advantage of the knowledge and reasoning of
others who are more adept, but could be disastrous if one is caught," Kruger
said. He added, "I am not surprised that some of the extreme examples of
cheating—ripping the relevant pages out of library books so other students
cannot see them—happen in intensely competitive environments, law school in
this example [of ripping out book pages]."

*Cheating basics*

Reynolds and University of Washington colleague Tara Ceranic surveyed about
230 college students with an average age of 21 who were enrolled in an
upper-level business course. The survey measured moral identity with 12
questions about the importance of certain characteristics, such as
generosity, willingness to work hard, honesty and compassion, and whether
things like clothing, books, activities and friends were associated with the
moral characteristics.

Students were also asked whether they had engaged in each of 13 cheating
behaviors, including using cheat sheets (crib notes), copying from another
student and turning in work completed by someone else.

Overall, cheating was rampant.

   - More than 90 percent reported having committed at least one of the
   13 cheating behaviors.
   - More than 55 percent reported saying nothing when they had benefited
   from an instructor's grading error.
   - Nearly 50 percent reported having inappropriately collaborated on an
   individual assignment.
   - Nearly 42 percent indicated copying from another student during a

 Students who scored high on moral identity and also considered cheating to
be morally wrong<http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/060328_pew_survey.html>were
the least likely to cheat. In contrast, the worst cheaters were the
"moral" students who considered cheating to be an ethically justifiable
behavior in certain situations.

"If they think it's wrong, they'll never do it," Reynolds told *LiveScience*.
"If they think it's OK, they do it in spades."

The researchers found similar results when they surveyed 290 managers,
asking them whether they had engaged in 17 workplace "no-no's," including
using company services for personal use, padding an expense account and
taking longer than necessary to do a job. The managers with moral identities
were also most likely to engage in the sketchy office

"When people have a strong moral identity, they think of themselves as great
moral people, their behavior tends to go to the extremes," Reynolds said.

*Cheat-proof tactics*

In order to encourage students and managers to forego cheating in exchange
for ethical behaviors, Reynolds suggests ethics education. Classes,
newsletters and other means of communication should help organizations to
communicate which behaviors are morally acceptable and which are not.

The old-school method of rewards and punishments could help. "We learn
through rewards and punishments so to the extent that schools crack down
when they need to crack down, we'd all be better off," Reynolds said.

For managers recruiting new employees, just because a person identifies
himself or herself as honest doesn't mean they won't cut corners.

"If you can recruit people with a moral identity and then train them
appropriately, you'll get some of the best behavior you can imagine,"
Reynolds said.

Gray Tree Crab aka "Big Bertha"
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