Not being true to ourselves as immoral as lying and cheating: Study

  • AFP
  • Updated: May 25, 2015 15:20 IST

The drive to be true to ourselves, a concept that encompasses individual values and emotional tendencies, could be so ingrained in Western culture that disguising them makes us feel immoral, according to a new study.

Examples include faking enthusiasm for something we have no desire to do or trying to make friends in a group whose values differ from our own -- and they could produce feelings of moral distress in the individual.

Such feelings of impurity, says the research team that hails from three top-ranked Masters of Business Administration (MBA) programs in the US, leave us in a cloud of guilt that inspires us to cleanse our souls through charitable acts.
What's more, they could promote the urge for physical cleansing, according to the researchers, who introduced participants to various grooming and sanitizing products during experimentation.

The researchers even suggest the psychological consequences of acting out an inauthentic version of oneself could be compared with those of behaviors such as lying and cheating, widely looked upon as immoral.

The aforementioned acts are each a violation of being true, whether to others in the cases of lying and cheating or to oneself in the case of inauthenticity.

Data was collected from participants' writings in which they described a time they felt inauthentic, reporting lower moral self-regard, and rated themselves as less generous and cooperative.

In a unique twist, the research team gave these participants a fill-in-the-blanks exercise and found them likely to choose words pertaining to cleanliness, even when other possibilities existed.

For example, the word "wash" was a likely choice when faced with "w_ _ h" despite the fact that "wish" is a possibility.

When presented with a list of products and asked to establish an order of importance among them, this group expressed a desire to use cleaning products -- but not other products -- and engage in grooming rituals, but not other behaviors.

A control group wrote about their more authentic experiences and were less likely to create cleansing-related words or express the abovementioned desires to clean and groom.

Examples of authentic memories ranged from failing a test or simply recalling what they had done the previous day.
Those who had been prompted to reflect on inauthenticity were more ready and willing to help their experimenter by taking an extra 15-minute survey than the control group, a behavior the research team claims is driven by feelings of immorality.

Yet when given the opportunity to test a hand sanitizer, their behavior became considerably less charitable, according to the study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science.

The researchers attribute the sudden reversal of charitable spirit to the delight they took in figuratively assuaging acts of 'impurity' with antibacterial disinfectant.

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