| Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Vicarious Dishonesty: When Psychological Closeness Creates Distance from One's Moral Compass
In four studies employing multiple manipulations of psychological closeness, we found that feeling connected to another individual who engages in selfish or dishonest behavior leads people to vicariously justify the actions of this individual and to behave more selfishly and less ethically themselves. We also establish the mechanism explaining this effect: when participants felt psychologically close to someone who had behaved selfishly, they were more likely to consider the behavior to be less shame worthy and also less unethical, and these judgments led them to act more unethically themselves. These vicarious effects were moderated by whether the miscreant was identified with a photograph and by the type of behavior. Psychological closeness also produced both vicarious generosity and selfishness, depending on the behavior of the person to whom participants felt psychologically close. Finally, we found that psychological closeness led to greater moral disengagement. These findings suggest an irony of psychological closeness: it can create distance from one's own moral compass.