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Two-Faced Morality: Distrust Promotes Divergent Moral Standards For The Self Versus Others

Alexa Weiss, Pascal Burgmer, Thomas Mussweiler

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People do not trust hypocrites, because they preach water, but drink wine. The current research shows that, ironically, when we distrust, we become moral hypocrites ourselves. We argue that experiencing distrust alerts us to the possibility that others may intent to exploit us, and that such looming exploitation differentially affects moral standards for the self versus others. Four studies ( N = 1,225) examined this possibility and its underlying motivational dynamic. Study 1 established a relationship between dispositional distrust and flexible, self-serving moral cognition. In Studies 2 and 3, participants experiencing distrust (vs. trust) endorsed more lenient moral standards for themselves than for others. Study 4 explored the role of the motivation to avoid exploitation in these effects. Specifically, participants’ dispositional victim sensitivity moderated the effect of distrust on hypocrisy. Together, these findings suggest that individuals who distrust and fear to be exploited show self-serving, and hence untrustworthy, moral cognition themselves.