Moral Spillovers: The Effect of Moral Violations on Deviant Behavior

33 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2008 Last revised: 14 Sep 2008

Date Written: April 2008


Two experiments investigated whether outcomes that violate people's moral standards increase their deviant behavior (the moral spillover effect). In Study 1, participants read about a legal trial in which the outcome supported, opposed or was unrelated to their moral convictions. Relative to when outcomes supported moral convictions, when outcomes opposed moral convictions people judged the outcome to be less fair, were more angry, were less willing to accept the outcome, and were more likely to take a borrowed pen. In Study 2, participants who recalled another person's moral violation were more likely to cheat on an experimental task relative to angry or neutral condition participants. Taken together, results provide evidence for moral spillover: outcomes that violate moral standards increase deviant behavior.

Keywords: moral psychology, legitimacy, compliance, emotion, moral outrage

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Mullen, Elizabeth and Nadler, Janice, Moral Spillovers: The Effect of Moral Violations on Deviant Behavior (April 2008). Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 08-03; 3rd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Papers. Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth Mullen


No Address Available

Janice Nadler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - School of Law

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3228 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

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