Washington, June 29 : Forgiving oneself is easier than forgiving others-such moral hypocrisy is an inherent trait in all of us, wherein people judge their own moral transgressions more leniently than those of others, and the reason behind this bias was unknown, until now.
Researchers at Northeastern University have said that at heart, the mind is just as sensitive to our own transgressions, but that bias in favour of protecting the self actually sprouts from cognitive rationalization processes, or in simple terms deliberative.
Led by Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno, the study showed that not only that participants viewed their own transgressions as significantly more "fair" than the same transgressions enacted by others, but also that this bias was eliminated under conditions of cognitive constraint.
They found that hypocrisy readily emerged under normal processing conditions, but disappeared under a cognitive load, which "ties up" the mind's ability to engage in higher order rationalization and reasoning.
"Our findings support the view that hypocrisy emerges from deliberative processes. It stems from volitionally-guided justifications, which shows that at a more basic level, humans possess a basic negative response to violations of fairness norms whether enacted by themselves or others," said David DeSteno, Associate Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University.
In their studies, the authors gave participants the option to assign fun and onerous tasks to themselves and others either randomly, or by personal choice. Other participants did not make the choice themselves, but watched other individuals assign themselves the more enjoyable task.
When individuals were asked to judge the fairness of these actions, everyone who assigned the preferable task to themselves judged this action to be more fair than did those who judged another person assign the easy task to him or herself.
However, when these judgments were made under cognitive constraint (i.e., remembering a random digit string), "participants experiencing cognitive load judged their own transgressions to be as unfair as the same behavior enacted by another. It is also clear that when contemplating one's transgressions, motives of rationalization and justification temper the mind's initial negative response to fairness transgressions and leads to more lenient judgment," said Piercarlo Valdesolo, graduate student of psychology at Northeastern University.
This study highlights that moral hypocrisy is controlled by a dual-process model of moral judgement, in which the prepotent negative reaction to the thought of fairness transgression works in sync with higher order processes to mediate decision-making.
"In light of our findings, future work should aim to further define the conditions which temper hypocrisy and ultimately suggest ways in which humans can better translate moral feelings into moral actions," added DeSteno.
The research is discussed in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.