Psychology

Seen in a Positive Light

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Science  09 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5877, pp. 719
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5877.719c

A frequently observed and seemingly antisocial behavior is that a morally dubious action taken by oneself will be regarded as less sinful than the same act committed by someone else. Within the currently popular framework of a dual-process model for rendering moral judgments, this asymmetry might arise either at the automatic/intuitive stage of assessment or at the conscious/deliberative stage. Valdesolo and DeSteno describe a study that reveals that the bias in favor of the self grows out of cognitive processes. Diverting some of these cognitive resources by imposing an onerous numerical task while actions were being rated for fairness eliminated the moral bonus awarded to one's own acts, suggesting that the rapid intuitive ranking of behaviors according to norms of fairness operates in an evenhanded and disinterested fashion. In contrast, the higher-level thinking so characteristic of us may, in fact, overrule baser animal instincts for all-too-human motivations, such as the drive toward a positive self-image. — GJC

J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 44, 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.03.010 (2008).

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