November 8, 2013
Saints At Breakfast, Criminals By Lunch
I like to picture my moral compass as a shining beacon of light that guides my decision-making process. (Please read in a somewhat sarcastic tone…) Because I am a reasonable adult, my morals are obviously consistent and well executed. Sure, I get tired sometimes, I make mistakes, but don’t we all? I operate under the assumption that my morality is a constant, unchangeable force that I have developed and refined throughout my life.
However, I could not be more wrong. Alan McStravick, for redOrbit, explains in his article about moral disengagement (the ability to behave in an unethical manner without feeling upset or guilty) that our morality is dependent on a variety of factors, most notably, the time of day. This is referred to as the “morning morality effect.”
Moral disengagement screams robot to me, but that is a bit of an exaggeration. Instead, picture your morality as a glass of juice. Personally, I like grape. Throughout the day you take sips of it and slowly deplete its contents. Therefore, you have less and less “moral juice” to work with as the day goes on. (Remember the saying nothing good happens after midnight?)
Researchers tested this effect in a pretty ingenious way. Participants in front of a computer monitor were shown a split screen. They were instructed to select the side (right or left) that contained more dots. However, instead of being compensated based on accuracy, participants were told that each time they chose the right side they would receive 10X more money than when they chose the left side. So, financially, it made the most sense to choose the right side every time, regardless of the perceived number of dots. Researchers also tested moral awareness by using thought priming activities.
Participants seemed to be more honest in the morning hours. Perhaps their moral juice was running low near the end of the day? The article states, “Self-control can be depleted due to lack of rest or making repeated decisions throughout the day.” Basically, you can only be on your “best behavior” for so long until the evil minion shows his face.
Lack of rest seems like an obvious factor; however, I was surprised to learn about the impact of “repeated decision-making.” I would assume that the more decisions that you make, the more in-practice you are. Unfortunately, the converse is true. You actually become desensitized to your decisions.
You disengage from your surroundings and become less and less concerned with the impact of your choices. This is a scary thought. Consider it from a medical perspective. A doctor comes into his day bright eyed and bushy tailed. He is excited about seeing patients and making a difference. However, the more people he sees and diagnoses that he makes, the more exhausted he becomes. What he is doing seems to matter less and less.
The researchers mentioned that their data could also be useful for professors and store owners. It might be beneficial for professors to administer tests earlier in the day in order to minimize cheating. Moreover, store owners should be more watchful of theft later in the day, because their customers are more prone to temptation.
Personally, I think that this trend has greater implications. Perhaps we need more breaks to morally rejuvenate ourselves? A morally disengaged society is not one that I want to be a part of, but I could definitely get behind a society that placed greater value in naps.
Let’s consider this for a moment. Naps for moral rejuvenation? Perhaps as naps increase, robberies decrease? Furthermore, I bet sleep-deprived college students are more likely to cheat on exams. We could implement mandatory siestas and raise the moral caliber of society! As morally concerned citizens, it’s our duty to push for this legislation immediately.
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