The Real Problem With Hypocrisy

Jillian Jordan, Roseanna Sommers, and David Rand: When someone condemns the behavior of others, why do we find it so objectionable if we learn he engages in the same behavior himself? The answer may seem self-evident. Not practicing what you preach; lacking the willpower to live up to your own ideals; behaving in ways you obviously know are wrong — these are clear moral failings. Perhaps. But new research of ours, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science (and in collaboration with our colleague Paul Bloom), suggests a different explanation. We contend that the reason people dislike hypocrites is that their outspoken moralizing falsely signals their own virtue. People object, in other words, to the misleading implication — not to a failure of will or a weakness of character.

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