Misdemeanors and Crimes: Is There a Slippery Slope?

The Huffington Post:

Vito Corleone, the mobster at the center of The Godfather saga, begins his career as a petty criminal. A Sicilian immigrant trying to raise a family in a New York City tenement, he agrees to help out a friend, Peter Clemenza, by stashing some guns. Soon after, he joins Clemenza in burglarizing a fancy apartment, and comes home with a nice rug. One burglary leads to another, and they eventually come to the attention of the local mob boss, Don Fanucci, who wants his cut of their loot. Rather than comply, Corleone follows Fanucci home and murders him in his apartment. It’s the first of many murders that he will commit or order in his long life of crime.

This is what criminologists and ethicists call the “slippery slope.” But the slippery slope is a psychological puzzle, and the evidence for it is mixed. Some people are like Vito Corleone: A fairly minor ethical lapse can trigger an immoral cascade, leading to a second, and a third, unethical decision, each more serious than the one before. But for others, it appears that the opposite is true: One act of misconduct triggers an ethical reversal, leading to good deeds to make up for the lapse.

So why do some slide down the immoral slope while others right themselves? This is the question that psychological scientist Shu Zhang of Columbia Business School wanted to explore in the lab. She and her Columbia colleagues wondered if certain people are more susceptible to the slippery slope, under what circumstances, and why.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology. Follow Wray on Twitter @wrayherbert.

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