What factors influence our judgments of others’ unethical behaviour?

My graduate research primarily focuses on two lines of work that examine how factors relating to the social context of an unethical act can meaningfully impact moral responding, providing empirical support for a growing theoretical argument for generating a more ecologically valid understanding of moral perception.

Closeness to a transgressor

When our close others misbehave, how do we react?

In a series of studies, I examine how observers respond more leniently to their close others when they behave unethically compared to strangers or acquaintances (more lenient judgments of their moral character, lower levels of other-critical emotions such as anger and disgust, and less motivations to punish). However, observers simultaneously report harsher evaluations of the self when their close others behave unethically.

I show these effects using a multi-method approach, including a 15-day experience study examining close others’ unethical actions and a laboratory paradigm where participants learned of novel immoral behaviour about their close others.

This work is now accepted at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Preprint here.

Perceived power of a transgressor

Many agree with the old adage that power corrupts, but does a transgressor’s power make us respond any differently to their unethical actions?

In a series of studies, I examine how moral outrage is experienced towards high versus low power perpetrators, finding that participants report greater outrage towards powerful individuals because their misbehaviour is perceived to cause worse consequences for victims and encourages broader cultures of unethicality.

This effect held regardless of victim’s power and in contexts where the perpetrator’s power is less obviously relevant across a diverse range of methods including witnessing selfish responding in an economic game and witnessing powerful or powerless transgressors behave unethically in a large-scale laboratory study.

This work is currently in preparation for journal submission. Stay tuned for a preprint here.

This work has been generously funded by the following institutions:

Additional Projects

In addition to my primary lines of work, I am currently working on a number of other projects examining perceptions of immoral behaviour. For example, what makes a transgressor be perceived as redeemed by others? How do we perceive immoral actions when they are intended as prosocial? Feel free to chat with me to learn more!