When Psychological Closeness Creates Distance from One’s Moral Compass
31 Pages Posted: 21 May 2010
Psychological closeness, even when born out of subtle similarities with another person, has been found to lead to beneficial outcomes, such as increased cooperation and helping. In the present investigation, we examined the potential dark side of psychological closeness. In five studies employing various manipulations of psychological closeness, we found that feeling connected to another individual who engaged in selfish or dishonest behavior led people to vicariously justify the actions of the wrongdoer and to behave less ethically. When a person feels psychologically close to someone who has behaved dishonestly, she is more likely than she would otherwise to consider such dishonesty to be legitimate and not embarrassing, and thus she is also more likely to vicariously act unethically. However, when parties are in the presence of out-group observers, this pattern of results reverses. These findings suggest an irony of psychological closeness: it can create distance from one’s own moral compass.
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