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Personal values and moral motivation 1

Personal values and moral motivation: disentangling moral integrity and moral hypocrisy

Jan-Erik Lönnqvist, Bernd Irlenbusch, Gari Walkowitz


Positioning moral motivations within the framework provided by Schwartz’ (1992) values

theory, we ran three dictator game studies (total N = 256) investigating moral integrity and moral

hypocrisy. We adapted Batson’s (et al., 1997; et al., 1999; et al., 2002) landmark research design

into the experimental economics laboratory (Study 1), and showed that the behavioral

inconsistency – out of 64 dictators, all 26 who chose to flip a coin to determine the allocation of

money ended up with the self-favoring outcome – revealed in such a design is indeed indicative

of dishonest claims to morality (arguably the core of moral hypocrisy), and not overpowered

moral integrity. Supporting this interpretation, dictators who masked their selfishness behind the

coin flip were motivated by high Conformity values (Study 1), and thereby similar to participants

who made more obviously disingenuous claims to morality (Study 2). Further, dictators did

generally not select the coin flip in case the result could not be rigged (only four out of 32

dictators did this; Study 3). Universalism and Benevolence values were predictive of moral

integrity (Studies 1 and 3). Morality ratings of behavior generally showed both self-serving and

outcome bias.

Keywords: Personal Values, Moral Motivation, Moral Hypocrisy, Moral Integrity, Ethics

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Personal values and moral motivation 2

Personal values and moral motivation: disentangling moral integrity and moral hypocrisy


Morally dubious behaviors by such professionals as bankers and politicians are far too

commonplace to either be listed here or to raise eyebrows. Perhaps more interesting are the

recently uncovered systematic scientific frauds carried out by field leaders in the area of moral

psychology (see,Alberts, 2011; Callaway, 2011; Gross, 2012). Such frauds cast doubt on the

classic Socratean reason for moral failure; i.e., that moral transgressions are caused by

intellectual failure. These failures are likely not to have occurred due to lack of knowledge about

right and wrong, but rather lack of motivation to behave morally. Indeed, a ground breaking

series of studies conducted by Batson and colleagues suggested that many people will not want

to pay the cost of behaving morally in case they can avoid it without appearing immoral (Batson,

Kobrynowicz, Dinnerstein, Kampf, & Wilson, 1997; Batson, Thompson, & Chen, 2002; Batson,

Thompson, Seuferling, Whitney, & Strongman, 1999).

In the research design employed by Batson and colleagues (et al., 1997; 1999; 2002),

moral hypocrisy is revealed through behavioral inconsistency, referring, in the present context,

and following the conceptual work of Monin and Merrit (2011), to the discrepancy between what

one says and what one does. However, Monin and Merrit (2011) went on to argue that such

inconsistency may be only one sign that may (or may not) reveal disingenuous claims to moral

virtue – the true essence of moral hypocrisy. The crux of the matter is whether, when claiming

the intent to behave morally, people believe that they will behave morally, or whether they are

being dishonest. The present research was designed to investigate whether behavioral

inconsistency, as revealed in a research design mimicking the one Batson employed, actually

indicates moral hypocrisy in the sense of untruthful claims to moral virtue, or whether such

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Considering the lack of credibility of many public figures that currently plagues an

increasing number of social psychologists (see opening paragraph), it is reassuring that the

results reported on in one of the most important series of studies in moral psychology replicated

in another laboratory, in another country, and with non-overlapping researchers. This happened

although our design was in many ways very different from that used by Batson and colleagues,

suggesting that the moral failure described by Batson is robust across a wide range of contextual

variables. Even more important, our results provide evidence that the behavioral inconsistency

observed in Batson’s research design is actually a sign of moral hypocrisy, in the sense of

disingenuous claims to morality (Monin&Merrit, 2011), and not overpowered moral integrity.

The other major contribution of the present research was to show that individual differences –

conceptualized within the framework offered by Schwartz’ values theory – could help explain

and disentangle both moral integrity and moral hypocrisy.

Behavioral Inconsistency and Disingenuousness Claims to Morality

As noted by Monin and Merrit (2011), not all instances of behavioral inconsistency are

necessarily instances of moral hypocrisy, assuming the latter is defined as disingenuous claims to

morality. Indeed, participants in Study 1 who chose to flip the coin – around half of the

participants – could at the outset have been motivated to behave at least somewhat morally (the

truly moral thing to do would of course have been to choose the fair option). Their failure to

follow through on their moral intentions, as revealed by the fact that all of them claimed to have

flipped the selfish outcome, could thus have been an instance of overpowered moral integrity

rather than moral hypocrisy.

Study 1 showed that participants scoring high in Conformity were particularly likely to

claim having flipped the coin. Considering that those scoring high in Conformity may think it

important to appear moral (see Introduction), the result suggests the importance of impression

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management motives rather than overpowered moral motives. In Study 2 we investigated

whether Conformity could be related to a more straightforward instance of dishonesty. The

results of Study 2 first revealed that people were generally willing to portray themselves as moral

when this could be done without cost. More importantly, particularly those scoring high in

Conformity values were prone to claim that they would behave morally if it was their task to

allocate the money. The dishonesty of this claim was revealed in the monetarily incentivized

condition, in which conformists were not more likely to behave morally. In Study 3 we sought

even stronger evidence that it is, indeed, merely the motivation to appear moral that is at the core

of the moral failure observed in Study 1. Indeed, when faced with a binding coin flip,

participants were generally not willing to commit themselves to the coin, but preferred directly

choosing the selfish option (this is consistent with the results of Bartling&Fischbacher, 2012).

Together these results suggest that the moral failure revealed in Batson’s research design through

behavioral inconsistency can actually be categorized as moral hypocrisy in the sense of making

disingenuous claims to morality.

As the behavioral outcome does not vary, one could ask whether the motivation behind

moral failures really matters. Besides advancing our theoretical understanding of a very subtle

and complex issue that has attracted the attention of philosophers for centuries – why do good

people behave immorally – our results could also have applied relevance. If moral hypocrisy, as

our results suggest, does not result from weakness of will, then institutional changes that are

known to heighten self-control (e.g., motivational incentives, training on self-control tasks, and

glucose supplementation; for a review, see Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010) are not

likely to be very successful in deterring moral failures. Indeed a recent review and meta-analysis

on business ethics instructional programs suggests that they have at best minimal impact

(Waples, Antes, Murphy, Connelly, & Mumford, 2009). Instead, if many people merely care

about appearing moral, changes directed at increased transparency and exposure should be much

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Figure 1.Schematic presentation of Studies 1, 2, and 3.

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Figure 2.Fair vs. selfish choice regressed on low and high Conformity scores in the hypothetical

and incentivized condition (Study 2).

Note: Low score = 1 SD below the mean; high score = 1 SD above the mean.












Low Conformism High Conformism

Hypothetical choice Incentivized choice

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