Research suggests that people often engage in a process called “moral licensing,” through which they point to past good deeds as a way to license their present immoral actions. Additional research demonstrates that through a process of vicarious moral licensing, people can reference their ingroup members’ morality to license their own morally dubious behavior. However, these proposed moral balancing acts seem to strikingly contradict decades of research arguing that people strive to act consistently with past behavior. The present research studies the phenomenon of ingroup licensing specifically as it relates to political ingroup identity, and examines the conditions under which people license their immoral actions as opposed to behaving consistently with their past good deeds. We hypothesized that learning about their political party’s moral actions would lead people to behave less morally themselves, that this effect would be heightened among people with stronger political party identification, and that it would be weakened among people with a strong moral identity concerning the behavior in question. Together, these three studies did not establish strong support for any of the three hypotheses. The implications of these findings are discussed, and directions for future research are proposed.
Acierno, Jane, "Can Good Groups Create Immoral Individuals? Examining Vicarious Moral Licensing in Political Ingroups" (2020). Psychology Honors Projects. 48.
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