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Can we be primed against moral hypocrisy?

Fergey, Lauren (2012) Can we be primed against moral hypocrisy? Southampton Solent University.


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Moral Hypocrisy is appearing moral, to oneself and others, without actually being moral, and was identified by Batson (1997,1999, 2002) using Coin-Flipping measures. Morality is initially automatic (Haidt, 2001) so it should be possible to prime it (subconsciously influence behaviour to display morality (Bargh, 1996), as shown in Utz et al.’s 2005 study). Priming against moral hypocrisy could lead to better social environments. This study aimed to explore the possibility of priming moral integrity and hypothesised that participants primed would be more likely to behave with moral integrity (and less likely to behave with moral hypocrisy) than those not primed. Participants whose initial moral motive was moral integrity were screened out using the Chair Test (designed by the experimenter, validity tested in Experiment 1). Morality was then primed using a scrambled sentence task, then the coin-flipping task tested for any effects of the prime on moral motives. A trend was identified: participants were 2.77 times more likely to show moral integrity after the prime, but this was not significant (x2= 3.51, p=0.185). However the trend showed a medium effect size, so with a larger sample a significant result should be produced. This supports Utz’s finding that morality can be primed, Batson’s studies on moral hypocrisy and Haidt’s SIM theory of initially automatic morality. However, it does not support Batson’s assumption that the coin introduces ambiguity to hide morally hypocritical decisions or even the validity of the coin-flipping measure. Before applying these results to social environments, a significant result, better understanding of the nature of primes and better understanding of the cognitive processes involved in morality are needed.

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