Is Immorality Our Default Mode?

As much as we would like to think that, put on the spot, we would do the right thing—and perhaps even the heroic thing—research has shown that that usually isn't true.

What's the Latest Development?


Accusations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain and the Penn State rape scandal have left many saying: "If I were in that situation, I would have done the right thing." But time and time again, research demonstrates that we are less given to moral behavior than we would like to think, particularly when we are put on the spot. Individuals imagine themselves to be more upright than those around them, even though most everyone seems willing to act immorally without much provocation.

What's the Big Idea?

We are slow to confront our inherent moral faults—or completely blind to them—because doing so opposes our notion of the dignity of human nature. We seem particularly susceptible to a slow erosion of morals, which was the case at Penn State as the football program gained more and more power within the University. But while we hesitate to act morally, we are not bound by our initial disinclination. Research also shows that if we learn to spot moral dilemmas before they occur, we are more likely to make the right decision.

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