Good Deeds Gone Bad

The New York Times:

ON your way to work today you may have paused to let another car merge into your lane. Or you stopped to give a dollar to a subway artist. A minute later, another chance to do the same may have appeared. Did your first act make the second more tempting? Or did you decide you had done your good deed for the day?

Strangely, researchers have demonstrated both reactions — moral consistency and moral compensation — repeatedly in laboratories, leading them to ask why virtue sometimes begets more virtue and sometimes allows for vice. In doing so, they have shed an interesting light on how the conscience works.

We often look to past behavior for clues about who we are and what we want, and then behave accordingly. Of course, we seek consistency not only with desirable behaviors, but also with less noble acts: in one study, subjects assigned to wear sunglasses they knew were counterfeit were more likely to cheat during the experiment.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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