Perceived morality is biased towards negativity

Posted By News On July 11, 2017 - 9:57pm

If you get the perception you are immoral, you may need to change companies, according to a new paper in PLOS One. And if you get arrested, good luck.

Scholars collected data from more than 400 participants on behavioural expectations of people described as ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’. Participants were asked to estimate the probability that an individual possessing a characteristic (i.e. honesty) would act in an inconsistent manner (i.e. dishonestly). It found participants perceived that those with a ‘good’ moral disposition were more likely to act out of character (i.e. immorally) than an immoral person to engage in inconsistent (i.e. moral) behaviors. For example, ‘covering for somebody’ was considered by participants to be a behavior that could be displayed by a sincere person whereas an insincere person was less likely to be associated with behaviors such as ‘telling the truth’.

Such a finding shows that those who are perceived to have immoral traits will have difficulty in changing how they are viewed by others as they are deemed to be less likely to change than a person classed as moral. This is particularly damaging for those who have a questionable character or are facing legal proceedings and highlights the obstacles they face in reversing perceptions of them.

Lead author Dr Patrice Rusconi from the University of Surrey, Social Emotions and Equality in Relations (SEER) research group, said, “Popular television shows like Breaking Bad show that those viewed as morally ‘good’ are seen as more likely to act out of character and behave immorally on occasions. However what we have found is that those perceived to be immoral are pigeon-holed, and are viewed as more likely to act in certain ways i.e. unjust and unfairly, and therefore unable to act morally on occasions."

Citation: Patrice Rusconi, You are fair, but I expect you to also behave unfairly: Positive asymmetry in trait-behavior relations for moderate morality information, PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180686