How do individuals face the ethical uncertainties of social life? When under the threat that their next action might be (or appear to be) morally dubious, individuals can derive conﬁdence from their past moral behavior, such that an impeccable track record increases their propensity to engage in otherwise suspect actions. Such moral self-licensing (Monin & Miller, 2001) occurs when past moral behavior makes people more likely to do potentially immoral things without worrying about feeling or appearing immoral. We argue that moral self-licensing occurs because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard. For example, when people are conﬁdent that their past behavior demonstrates compassion, generosity, or a lack of prejudice, they are more likely to act in morally dubious ways without fear of feeling heartless, selﬁsh, or bigoted.
In this article, we review the state of research on moral self-licensing, ﬁrst by documenting in some detail empirical demonstrations of self-licensing and kindred phenomena, then by analyzing remaining questions about the model, and ﬁnally by sketching out directions for future research to cast light on these unresolved issues.
Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad
Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron, and Benoıˆt Monin
Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4/5 (2010): 344–357, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00263.x