Moral cleansing as a global self-worth maintenance mechanism

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Recurring business and political scandals in modern capitalist societies stress urgent need to understand why people exhibit (im)moral behaviors. Moral cleansing research showed that, when individuals’ self-worth as moral people is threatened, they exhibit more moral behaviors presumably to restore and maintain the moral self-worth. This paper further develops this research by testing whether moral cleansing serves a higher goal of maintain global self-worth, which encompasses self- worth in multiple areas including morality and non-moral areas (e.g., intelligence, athletics, physical appearance, etc.). Three experiments consistently showed that a self-worth threat (vs. control) in an area unrelated to morality led individuals who value morality to volunteer more for a research study, donate more to a local charity, and exhibit less deceptive behavior. These results suggest that moral cleansing is a mechanism through which individuals maintain their global self-worth and have implications for better understanding why people choose the moral route in moral dilemmas.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
Place of PublicationBriarcliff Manor, NY
PublisherAcademy of Management
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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