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Moral Cleansing And Moral Licenses: Experimental Evidence

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  • Brañas-Garza, Pablo
  • Bucheli, Marisa
  • Paz Espinosa, María
  • García-Muñoz, Teresa

Abstract

Research on moral cleansing and moral self-licensing has introduced dynamic considerations in the theory of moral behavior. Past bad actions trigger negative feelings that make people more likely to engage in future moral behavior to offset them. Symmetrically, past good deeds favor a positive self-perception that creates licensing effects, leading people to engage in behavior that is less likely to be moral. In short, a deviation from a “normal state of being” is balanced with a subsequent action that compensates the prior behavior. We model the decision of an individual trying to reach the optimal level of moral self-worth over time and show that under certain conditions the optimal sequence of actions follows a regular pattern which combines good and bad actions. We conduct an economic experiment where subjects play a sequence of giving decisions (dictator games) to explore this phenomenon. We find that donation in the previous period affects present decisions and the sign is negative: participants’ behavior in every round is negatively correlated to what they did in the past. Hence donations over time seem to be the result of a regular pattern of self-regulation: moral licensing (being selfish after altruist) and cleansing (altruistic after selfish).

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Economics and Philosophy.

Volume (Year): 29 (2013)
Issue (Month): 02 (July)
Pages: 199-212

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Handle: RePEc:cup:ecnphi:v:29:y:2013:i:02:p:199-212_00

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  1. Fernando Aguiar & Pablo Branas-Garza & Maria Paz Espinosa & Luis Miller, 2010. "Personal identity: a theoretical and experimental analysis," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(3), pages 261-275.
  2. Pierpaolo Battigalli & Martin Dufwenberg, 2007. "Guilt in Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 170-176, May.
  3. Arellano, Manuel & Bond, Stephen, 1991. "Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(2), pages 277-97, April.
  4. Forsythe Robert & Horowitz Joel L. & Savin N. E. & Sefton Martin, 1994. "Fairness in Simple Bargaining Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 347-369, May.
  5. Windmeijer, Frank, 2005. "A finite sample correction for the variance of linear efficient two-step GMM estimators," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 126(1), pages 25-51, May.
  6. John A. List, 2007. "On the Interpretation of Giving in Dictator Games," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 482-493.
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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. What's Right?
    by noreply@blogger.com (Mungowitz) in Kids Prefer Cheese on 2013-08-18 08:00:00
  2. Moral licensing & cherry-picking
    by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2012-10-26 13:32:44
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Cited by:
  1. Liu, Elaine M. & Meng, Juanjuan & Wang, Joseph Tao-yi, 2013. "Confucianism and Preferences: Evidence from Lab Experiments in Taiwan and China," IZA Discussion Papers 7684, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Sophie Clot & Gilles Grolleau & Lisette Ibanez, 2013. "Self-Licensing and Financial Rewards: Is Morality For Sale?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 33(3), pages 2298-2306.
  3. Sophie Clot & Fano Andriamahefazafy & Gilles Grolleau & Lisette Ibanez & Philippe Méral, 2014. "Payments for Ecosystem Services: Can we kill two birds with one stone? Insights from a Natural Field Experiment in Madagascar," Working Papers 14-01, LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier, revised Jan 2014.

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