Do good deeds make bad people?

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14 January 2014

A limited but growing literature contends that licensing can operate by committing to a virtuous act in a preceding choice, which reduces negative self-attributions associated with donating less or behaving less virtuously in the succeeding decision. Psychological research and behavioral economics strongly suggest that pre-existing intrinsic motivations of individuals play a major role in determining their subsequent choices when faced with a voluntary or mandatory virtuous act’. In this paper, we report the results of a pilot experimental study examining licensing effect in the environmental realm, using a 2 (mandatory or voluntary nature of the virtuous act) X 2 (intrinsically or non-intrinsically motivated individuals) between subjects design. We found that intrinsically motivated and non-intrinsically motivated subjects reacted adversely to the two policy scenarios. The licensing effect occurs when combining intrinsically (resp., non-intrinsically) motivated individuals and mandatory (resp. voluntary) conditions.