You’re more likely to do something bad if you can do it passively, a pair of studies has found.
The psychology studies, conducted at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, showed people are more likely to deny help and cheat if it required little effort.
“It’s a lot more difficult for people to morally transgress when they feel they’re explicitly transgressing,” said Rimma Teper, a PhD student and the lead author of one of the studies.
She said her study shows why people may not take part in actions that are morally good.
“It’s very easy for people to bypass opportunities to be a good moral person because a lot of the time they don’t feel they’re doing anything wrong by bypassing these opportunities,” Teper said.
She said the findings can also be applied to the way charities solicit donations.
“There are more and less effective methods of getting people to do pro-social things,” Teper said.
Hard to click ‘no’
The first study asked if participants were willing to help a student with a disability finish a problem-solving set. For one group, the question came up on a screen and people had to either click “yes” or “no.” The second was given an option to click for more details on how to volunteer. The first group was five times more likely to agree, Teper said.
“People find it more difficult to click ‘no’ than they do to click ‘continue’,” Teper said. “Because saying ‘No, I don’t want to help this person,’ is conceptualized in explicit moral transgression. That’s something that’s clearly not a nice thing to do.”
In a second study, a group was split in two and given math problems to solve. The first group was told there was a computer error and if they clicked the space bar, the answer would appear. The second was told that if they waited long enough, the answer would show up. The second group was more likely to cheat.
Teper, whose primary interest is moral behaviour, says she next wants to look at people’s emotions while they make these decisions.
“We think the emotions that are associated with committing an explicit moral transgression are much stronger,” Teper said.