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What drives disagreement about moral hypocrisy? Perceived comparability and how people exploit it to criticize enemies and defend allies





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Silver I;Berman J Z


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Charges of hypocrisy are usually thought to be to be damning. Yet when a hypocrisy charge is made, there often remains disagreement about whether or not its target really is a hypocrite. Why? Three pre-registered experiments (N = 2,599) conceptualize and test the role of perceived comparability in evaluating hypocrisy. Calling someone a hypocrite typically entails invoking a comparison—one meant to highlight internal contradiction and cast moral character into question. Yet there is ambiguity about which sorts of comparisons are valid in the first place. We argue that disagreements about moral hypocrisy often boil down to disagreements about comparability. Although the comparability of two situations should not depend on whose behavior is being scrutinized, observers shift comparability judgments in line with social motives to criticize or defend. In short, we identify a cognitive factor that can help to explain why, for similar patterns of behavior, people see hypocrisy in their enemies but consistency in themselves and their allies.

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