Motivated misremembering of selfish decisions

Ryan W. Carlson, Michel André Maréchal, Bastiaan Oud, Ernst Fehr, Molly J. Crockett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

People often prioritize their own interests, but also like to see themselves as moral. How do individuals resolve this tension? One way to both pursue personal gain and preserve a moral self-image is to misremember the extent of one’s selfishness. Here, we test this possibility. Across five experiments (N = 3190), we find that people tend to recall being more generous in the past than they actually were, even when they are incentivized to recall their decisions accurately. Crucially, this motivated misremembering effect occurs chiefly for individuals whose choices violate their own fairness standards, irrespective of how high or low those standards are. Moreover, this effect disappears under conditions where people no longer perceive themselves as responsible for their fairness violations. Together, these findings suggest that when people’s actions fall short of their personal standards, they may misremember the extent of their selfishness, thereby potentially warding off threats to their moral self-image.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2100
JournalNature communications
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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