Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches and Lectures


When Hypocrisy is Rewarded: The Costs of Moral Flexibility Outweigh the Costs of Hypocrisy

Document Type


Presentation Date


Date Range

2021-07-30 to 2021-08-03


Why is hypocrisy so pervasive in our political, professional, and personal lives? Existing research on hypocrisy suggests that word-deed misalignment is penalized. Yet, hypocrisy continues to permeate our everyday lives. Across five studies (N = 3080), we identify circumstances in which hypocrisy is preferred to consistency. When required to take positions on moral issues, actors are rewarded more (in character judgments, interpersonal trust, and political support) for taking absolute positions (“It is never okay to lie”) that they fail to uphold than for taking more flexible positions (“It is sometimes okay to lie”) that are consistent with their behavior. We study this phenomenon in the moral domain of honesty. Although few people endorse absolute honesty themselves, they still reward others who proclaim that lying is never okay, even when such absolutism involves hypocritical deception. This research helps to explain the persistence of unrealistic moral absolutism in our social world.