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Monday, May 20, 2024

Making rights from wrongs: The crucial role of beliefs and justifications for the expression of aversive personality

Hilbig, B. E., et al. (2022).
Journal of experimental psychology.
General, 151(11), 2730–2755.


Whereas research focusing on stable dispositions has long attributed ethically and socially aversive behavior to an array of aversive (or "dark") traits, other approaches from social-cognitive psychology and behavioral economics have emphasized the crucial role of social norms and situational justifications that allow individuals to uphold a positive self-image despite their harmful actions. We bridge these research traditions by focusing on the common core of aversive traits (the dark factor of personality [D]) and its defining aspect of involving diverse beliefs that serve to construct justifications. In particular, we theoretically specify the processes by which D is expressed in aversive behavior-namely, through diverse beliefs and the justifications they serve. In six studies (total N > 25,000) we demonstrate (a) that D involves higher subjective justifiability of those aversive behaviors that individuals high in D are more likely to engage in, (b) that D uniquely relates to diverse descriptive and injunctive beliefs-related to distrust (e.g., cynicism), hierarchy (e.g., authoritarianism), and relativism (e.g., normlessness)-that serve to justify aversive behavior, and (c) a theoretically derived pattern of moderations and mediations supporting the view that D accounts for aversive behavior because it fosters subjective justifiability thereof-at least in part owing to certain beliefs and the justifications they afford. More generally, our findings highlight the role of (social) cognitions within the conceptual definitions of personality traits and processes through which they are expressed in behavior. 

Here is a summary:

The study examines how individuals' beliefs and justifications shape the expression of aversive personality traits, such as prejudice, in social contexts.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments to investigate the role of moral beliefs and justifications in the expression of aversive personality. They found that individuals are more likely to express prejudiced views when they can justify them on moral grounds.

Specifically, the studies show that people are more willing to express prejudiced attitudes when they can frame them as upholding moral values like fairness, purity, or loyalty, rather than simply as personal preferences.

The findings suggest that the ability to construct moral justifications for prejudiced views plays a crucial role in allowing individuals to express aversive personality traits without feeling guilt or shame.

The authors argue that this process of "making rights from wrongs" through moral justification is a key mechanism underlying the expression of prejudice and other aversive personality characteristics in social settings.

In summary, this research provides important insights into how individuals' moral beliefs and justifications enable the expression of prejudiced and aversive personality traits, which has significant implications for understanding and addressing such problematic social behaviors.