Essays on Ethics: Antecedents and Consequences

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Essays on Ethics: Antecedents and Consequences

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Title: Essays on Ethics: Antecedents and Consequences
Author: Shu, Lisa
Citation: Shu, Lisa. 2012. Essays on Ethics: Antecedents and Consequences. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Does memory conspire with morality? Essay 1 details evidence from four experiments demonstrating that dishonest behavior impairs memory for moral rules. After engaging in cheating behavior, individuals dispel conscience from consciousness through pushing aside memories of burdensome moral rules. Across four experiments, cheaters demonstrated moral forgetting relative to control and honest participants. Moral forgetting appeared to result from suppressed access to morality in general after cheating. While forgetting moral rules may help individuals exonerate themselves from their previous unethical actions, it may potentially send them on a downward spiral toward ever more deviant future behavior. How can this slippery slope be forestalled? Essay 2 tests one intervention to curb cheating behavior: requiring a signature before facing an opportunity to cheat. Evidence from three experiments suggest that simply asking for a signature at the start of a task as opposed to at the end promoted honest reporting, through making morality salient right before it mattered most. While this simple intervention in the form of a signature request effectively increased honesty on a subsequent task, how does one promote ethical behaviors over the longer term? Because moral dilemmas often require self-control, morality may function as a muscle—it may actually draw on the same reserves of self-regulation as physical strength. Essay 3 explores the relationship between morality and physical strength through demonstrating that mere contemplation of a moral choice leads to increased muscular strength. Together, these essays cover one way by which individuals manage their morality after cheating (through the forgetting of moral rules) and one intervention that could curb cheating before it is committed (through introducing a signature request before the temptation to cheat). The final essay investigates the relationship between moral decision-making and physical strength, offering preliminary evidence that modeling morality as a muscle may be more than mere metaphor.
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