The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Piercarlo Valdesolo’

Moral Hypocrisy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2008

Law professor and commentator Rosa Brooks has a provocative and situationist op-ed, titled “Radovan Karadzic: Just a moral hypocrite,” in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Here is a brief excerpt.

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All the evidence we have suggests that human beings are adept at self-deceit. Alone among animals, humans are tellers of stories — and we tell stories to ourselves as well as to others. We trick ourselves constantly, in countless tiny ways, into believing that the bad deeds of others are very bad indeed, while our own are necessary, minor, forgivable — or maybe not even bad at all.

In one recent study, for instance, Northeastern University psychologists Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno found that when subjects were asked to assign tasks to themselves and to strangers, nearly all gave themselves easy tasks while assigning unpleasant tasks to people they didn’t know. When asked if their actions were fair, subjects were quick to find appealing rationales to justify saddling strangers with all the lousy jobs. But these same subjects were quick to condemn the same selfish behavior when they saw others engage in it.

At least on a microscopic level, then, most of us aren’t all that different from Karadzic or any of the other killers who cloaked their atrocities in the soothing rhetoric of healing. We’re all moral hypocrites, willing to believe our own justifications for the rotten things we want to do.

There’s a depressing lesson here. Uplifting rhetoric — even the language of healing, generosity and compassion — can genuinely mask the true nature of bad deeds (even from those who carry them out). As a nation at war, it’s a lesson we should remember.

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To read the entire editorial, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Motivated Situation of Morality” and “A Convenient Fiction.”

Posted in Conflict, History, Morality | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Motivated Situation of Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 15, 2008

A recent story on MSNBC summarizes research indicating “why we’re all moral hypocrites.” Here are a few excerpts.

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Most of us, whether we admit it or not, are moral hypocrites. We judge others more severely than we judge ourselves.

Mounting evidence suggests moral decisions result from the jousting between our knee-jerk responses . . . and our slower, but more collected evaluations. Which is more responsible for our self-leniency?

To find out, a recent study presented people with two tasks. One was described as tedious and time-consuming; the other, easy and brief. The subjects were asked to assign each task to either themselves or the next participant. They could do this independently or defer to a computer, which would assign the tasks randomly.

Eighty-five percent of 42 subjects passed up the computer’s objectivity and assigned themselves the short task – leaving the laborious one to someone else. Furthermore, they thought their decision was fair. However, when 43 other subjects watched strangers make the same decision, they thought it unjust.

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The researchers then “constrained cognition” by asking subjects to memorize long strings of numbers. In this greatly distracted state, subjects became impartial. They thought their own transgressions were just as terrible as those of others.

This suggests that we are intuitively moral beings, but “when we are given time to think about it, we construct arguments about why what we did wasn’t that bad,” said lead researcher Piercarlo Valdesolo, who conducted this study at Northeastern University and is now a professor at Amherst College.

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The researchers speculate that instinctive morality results from evolutionary selection for team players. Being fair, they point out, strengthens mutually beneficial relationships and improves our chances for survival.

So why do we choose to judge ourselves so leniently?

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To read teh entire article, including the answer to that last question, click here.

For related Situationists posts, see “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “Moral Psychology Primer,” “Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” “Our Brain and Morality,” The Situation of Reason,” “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,” “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me),” and “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Experimental Philosophy, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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