When virtue leads to villainy: advances in research on moral self-licensing

Daniel A. Effron, Paul Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acting virtuously can subsequently free people to act less-than-virtuously. We review recent insights into this moral self-licensing effect: first, it is reliable, though modestly sized, and occurs in both real-world and laboratory contexts; second, planning to do good, reflecting on foregone bad deeds, or observing ingroup members’ good deeds is sufficient to license less virtuous behavior; third, when people need a license, they can create one by strategically acting or planning to act more virtuously, exaggerating the sinfulness of foregone bad deeds, or reinterpreting past behavior as moral credentials; and fourth, moral self-licensing effects seem most likely to occur when people interpret their virtuous behavior as demonstrating their lack of immorality but not signaling that morality is a core part of their self-concept.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-35
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychology
Early online date21 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


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