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Letting people off the hook: When do good deeds excuse transgressions?


Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Effron D A;Monin B


Publication Year



Three studies examined when and why an actor’s prior good deeds make observers more willing to excuse—or license—his or her subsequent, morally dubious behavior. In a pilot study, actors’ good deeds made participants more forgiving of the actors’ subsequent transgressions. In Study 1, participants only licensed blatant transgressions that were in a different domain than actors’ good deeds; blatant transgressions in the same domain appeared hypocritical and suppressed licensing (e.g., fighting adolescent drug use excused sexual harassment, but fighting sexual harassment did not). Study 2 replicated these effects and showed that good deeds made observers license ambiguous transgressions (e.g., behavior that might or might not represent sexual harassment) regardless of whether the good deeds and the transgression were in the same or in a different domain—but only same-domain good deeds did so by changing participants’ construal of the transgressions. Discussion integrates two models of why licensing occurs.

Available on ECCH


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