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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 behaviour. Past bad actions trigger negative feelings that make people more likely to engage in future moral behaviour to offset them. Symmetrically, past good deeds favour a positive self-perception that creates licensing effects, leading people to engage in behaviour 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 behaviour. 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. To explore this phenomenon we conduct an economic experiment where subjects play a sequence of giving decisions (dictator games). We find that donations in the previous period affect present decisions and the sign is negative: participants' behaviour 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 altruistic) and cleansing (altruistic after selfish).

Suggested Citation

  • Brañas-Garza, Pablo & Bucheli, Marisa & Paz Espinosa, María & García-Muñoz, Teresa, 2013. "Moral Cleansing And Moral Licenses: Experimental Evidence," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 29(02), pages 199-212, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:ecnphi:v:29:y:2013:i:02:p:199-212_00
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
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    1. Clot, Sophie & Andriamahefazafy, Fano & Grolleau, Gilles & Ibanez, Lisette & Méral, Philippe, 2015. "Compensation and Rewards for Environmental Services (CRES) and efficient design of contracts in developing countries. Behavioral insights from a natural field experiment," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 85-96.
    2. repec:eee:soceco:v:69:y:2017:i:c:p:18-28 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Liu, Elaine M. & Meng, Juanjuan & Wang, Joseph Tao-yi, 2014. "Confucianism and preferences: Evidence from lab experiments in Taiwan and China," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 106-122.
    4. Dolan, Paul & Galizzi, Matteo M., 2015. "Like ripples on a pond: Behavioral spillovers and their implications for research and policy," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 1-16.
    5. repec:eee:eecrev:v:95:y:2017:i:c:p:195-214 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Dolan, Paul & Galizzi, Matteo M., 2014. "Because I'm worth it: a lab-field experiment on the spillover effects of incentives in health," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 60356, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    7. Gallier, Carlo & Reif, Christiane & Römer, Daniel, 2015. "Consistent or balanced? On the dynamics of voluntary contributions," ZEW Discussion Papers 14-060 [rev.], ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    8. Charness, Gary & Cobo-Reyes, Ramón & Jiménez, Natalia & Lacomba, Juan A. & Lagos, Francisco, 2017. "Job security and long-term investment: An experimental analysis," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 195-214.
    9. 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.
    10. Alistair Munro & Marieta Valente, 2016. "Green Goods: Are They Good or Bad News for the Environment? Evidence from a Laboratory Experiment on Impure Public Goods," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 65(2), pages 317-335, October.
    11. Capraro, Valerio & Kuilder, Jotte, 2016. "To know or not to know? Looking at payoffs signals selfish behavior, but it does not actually mean so," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 79-84.
    12. Stikvoort, Britt & Lindahl, Therese & Daw, Tim M., 2016. "Thou shalt not sell nature: How taboo trade-offs can make us act pro-environmentally, to clear our conscience," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 252-259.
    13. Thunström, Linda & Cherry, Todd L. & McEvoy, David M. & Shogren, Jason F., 2016. "Endogenous context in a dictator game," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 117-120.
    14. 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, Universitiy of Montpellier, revised Jan 2014.
    15. Nadine Chlass & Peter G. Moffatt, 2017. "Giving in dictator games: Experimenter demand effect or preference over the rules of the game?," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 17-05, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    16. Janna Ter Meer, 2014. "The indirect effect of monetary incentives on deception," Cologne Graduate School Working Paper Series 05-04, Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences.
    17. repec:eee:ecolec:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:119-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Gallier, Carlo & Reif, Christiane & Römer, Daniel, 2014. "Consistent or balanced? On the dynamics of voluntary contributions," ZEW Discussion Papers 14-060, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    19. Clot, Sophie & Grolleau, Gilles & Ibanez, Lisette, 2014. "Smug Alert! Exploring self-licensing behavior in a cheating game," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 123(2), pages 191-194.

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