Your morals may be more flexible than you think

While we may have strong ideas about what's moral and what isn't, new research shows those ideas depend on the circumstances.

Disapproval of qualities people often associate with immorality such as selfishness, dishonesty, sexual infidelity, and mercilessness is conditional, rather than universal, according to a new study.

“We all know of some immoral people who are well liked, but we tend to assume that these people are not considered immoral by their admirers…”

In a 1968 study of 555 personal traits, people ranked liars and phonies as the most detestable individuals, even lower than those who are murderous, malicious, and cruel.

“We wanted to know if this always holds true, or whether there are contexts when people see phoniness as a good thing,” says psychologist David E. Melnikoff of Yale University.

Melnikoff and coauthor April H. Bailey found one such context: Subjects asked to hire a spy viewed an untrustworthy one more positively than a trustworthy spy, despite regarding the untrustworthy spy as more immoral.

The survey results held true for other traits associated with immorality. People in general agreed that sexual infidelity is more immoral than sexual fidelity, but uncommitted men did not evaluate sexual infidelity more negatively.

Almost everybody agreed that being merciless is more immoral than being merciful, but people evaluated a merciless juror more positively than a merciful juror. The researchers found that people’s preference for altruism over selfishness is conditional as well.

“We all know of some immoral people who are well liked, but we tend to assume that these people are not considered immoral by their admirers—or if they are, that they possess other compensating qualities,” Bailey says.

However, the findings suggest that, in certain contexts, people are liked precisely because they are considered immoral, the authors say.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Yale University

The post Your morals may be more flexible than you think appeared first on Futurity.

More from Futurity

Futurity2 min readTech
Facebook Posts Can Predict 21 Health Problems
Facebook posts alone can predict some 21 diseases and conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, and depression, a new study shows. The study, published in PLOS ONE, includes 999 participants who consented to share their social media post
Futurity3 min read
Noninvasive System Lets People ‘Mind Control’ Robot Arm
Using a noninvasive brain-computer interface, researchers have developed the first-ever successful mind-controlled robotic arm with the ability to continuously track and follow a computer cursor. Being able to noninvasively control robotic devices us
Futurity2 min readSociety
White People’s Racial Apathy Can Diminish Over Time
Prejudice among white people can lessen over time, according to new research. The study examines how some white people express racial prejudice—in the form of racial apathy—over time. The researchers also developed a new way to measure this type of p