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The strategic pursuit of moral credentials

Authors
Journal
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
0022-1031
Publisher
Elsevier
Volume
48
Issue
3
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.017
Keywords
  • Moral Credential
  • Moral Licensing
  • Attributional Ambiguity
  • Racial Attitude

Abstract

Abstract Moral credentials establish one's virtue and license one to act in morally disreputable ways with impunity (Monin & Miller, 2001). We propose that when people anticipate doing something morally dubious, they strategically attempt to earn moral credentials. Participants who expected to do something that could appear racist (decline to hire a Black job candidate in Studies 1 and 2, or take a test that might reveal implicit racial bias in Study 3) subsequently sought to establish non-racist credentials (by expressing greater racial sensitivity in Studies 1 and 2, or by exaggerating how favorably they perceived a Black job candidate in Study 3). Consistent with prior research, a follow-up study revealed that the opportunity to establish such credentials subsequently licensed participants to express more favorable attitudes towards a White versus a Black individual. We argue that strategically pursuing moral credentials allows individuals to manage attributions about their morally dubious behavior.

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