Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches and Lectures


Being Dishonest About Dishonesty: The Social Benefits of Taking Absolute (But Hypocritical) Moral Stances

Document Type


Presentation Date


Date Range

2021-08-22 to 2021-08-24


Despite the well-documented costs of word-deed misalignment, hypocrisy permeates our personal and professional lives. Why? We explore one potential explanation: the costs of moral flexibility outweigh the costs of hypocrisy, making hypocritical moral absolutism a preferred social strategy to admissions of nuance. Across five preregistered studies (N = 3080), we find that actors are rewarded more for taking absolute stances (“Lying is never okay”) that they fail to uphold than for taking flexible stances (“Lying is sometimes okay”) that align with their behavior. Preferences for absolutism stem from the belief that moral proclamations send a true signal about moral character—they are not cheap talk. Therefore, absolute proclamations signal moral character, despite also signaling hypocrisy. This research helps to explain the persistence of unrealistic moral absolutism in our social world.