Dishonest Deed, Clear Conscience: Self-Preservation Through Moral Disengagement and Motivated Forgetting

53 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2009 Last revised: 14 Apr 2013

See all articles by Lisa L. Shu

Lisa L. Shu

Harvard Business School; Harvard University - Department of Psychology; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Max H. Bazerman

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: April 27, 2009

Abstract

People routinely engage in dishonest acts without feeling guilty about their behavior. When and why does this occur? Across four studies, people justified their dishonest deeds through moral disengagement and exhibited motivated forgetting of information that might otherwise limit their dishonesty. Using hypothetical scenarios (Studies 1 and 2) and real tasks involving the opportunity to cheat (Studies 3 and 4), we find that dishonest behavior increased moral disengagement and motivated forgetting of moral rules. Such changes did not occur in the case of honest behavior or consideration of the behavior of others. In addition, increasing moral saliency by having participants read or sign an honor code significantly reduced or eliminated unethical behavior. While dishonest behavior motivated moral leniency and led to strategic forgetting of moral rules, honest behavior motivated moral stringency and diligent recollection of moral rules.

Keywords: dishonesty, ethics, ethics codes, moral disengagement, unethical behavior

Suggested Citation

Shu, Lisa L. and Gino, Francesca and Bazerman, Max H., Dishonest Deed, Clear Conscience: Self-Preservation Through Moral Disengagement and Motivated Forgetting (April 27, 2009). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 09-078. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1323803 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1323803

Lisa L. Shu

Harvard Business School ( email )

Baker Library 444C
Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Harvard University - Department of Psychology ( email )

William James Hall 260
33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Max H. Bazerman (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6429 (Phone)
617-496-4191 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mbazerman

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
406
rank
69,797
Abstract Views
2,762
PlumX Metrics