Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ethical dissonance, justifications, and moral behavior

Rachel Barkan, Shahar Ayal, and Dan Ariely
Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 6, December 2015, Pages 157–161


Ethical dissonance is triggered by the inconsistency between the aspiration to uphold a moral self-image and the temptation to benefit from unethical behavior. In terms of a temporal distinction anticipated dissonance occurs before people commit a moral-violation. In contrast, experienced dissonance occurs after people realize they have violated their moral code. We review the psychological mechanisms and justifications people use to reduce ethical dissonance in order to benefit from wrongdoing and still feel moral. We then offer harnessing anticipated-dissonance to help people resist temptation, and utilize experienced-dissonance to prompt moral compensation and atonement. We argue that rather than viewing ethical dissonance as a threat to self-image, we should help people see it as the gate-keeper of their morality.


• Ethical dissonance represents the tension between moral-self and unethical behavior.
• Justifications reduce ethical dissonance, allowing to do wrong and feel moral.
• Ethical dissonance can be anticipated before, or experienced after, the violation.
• Effective moral interventions can harness ethical dissonance as a moral gate-keeper.

The article is here.