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The strategic pursuit of moral credentials


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Merritt A C;Effron D A;Fein S;Savitsky K K;Tuller D M;Monin B


Publication Year



Moral credentials establish one's virtue and license one to act in morally disreputable ways with impunity (Monin & Miller, 2001). We propose that when people anticipate doing something morally dubious, they strategically attempt to earn moral credentials. Participants who expected to do something that could appear racist (decline to hire a Black job candidate in Studies 1 and 2, or take a test that might reveal implicit racial bias in Study 3) subsequently sought to establish non-racist credentials (by expressing greater racial sensitivity in Studies 1 and 2, or by exaggerating how favorably they perceived a Black job candidate in Study 3). Consistent with prior research, a follow-up study revealed that the opportunity to establish such credentials subsequently licensed participants to express more favorable attitudes towards a White versus a Black individual. We argue that strategically pursuing moral credentials allows individuals to manage attributions about their morally dubious behavior.


Moral credential; Moral licensing; Attributional ambiguity; Racial attitude

Available on ECCH


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