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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Liars, Damned Liars, and Zealots: The Effect of Moral Mandates on Transgressive Advocacy Acceptance

Allison B. Mueller, Linda J. Skitka
Social Psychological and Personality Science 
First published date: July-25-2017


This research explored people’s reactions to targets who “went too far” to support noble causes. We hypothesized that observers’ moral mandates would shape their perceptions of others’ advocacy, even when that advocacy was transgressive, that is, when it used norm-violating means (i.e., lying) to achieve a preferred end. Observers were expected to accept others’ advocacy, independent of its credibility, to a greater extent when it bolstered their strong (vs. weak) moral mandate. Conversely, observers with strong (vs. weak) moral conviction for the cause were expected to condemn others’ advocacy—independent of its credibility—to a greater degree when it represented progress for moral opponents. Results supported these predictions. When evaluating a target in a persuasive communication setting, people’s judgments were uniquely shaped by the degree to which the target bolstered or undermined a cherished moral mandate.

Here is part of the Discussion Section:

These findings expand our knowledge of the moral mandate effect in two key ways. First, this work suggests that the moral mandate effect extends to specific individuals, not just institutions and authorities. Moral mandates may shape people’s perceptions of any target who engages in norm-violating behaviors that uphold moralized causes: co-workers, politicians, or CEOs. Second, this research suggests that, although people are not comfortable excusing others for heinous crimes that serve a moralized end (Mullen & Skitka, 2006), they appear comparatively tolerant of norm violations like lying.

A troubling and timely implication of these findings is that political figures may be able to act in corrupt ways without damaging their images (at least in the eyes of their supporters).

The article is here.