Graeme Newell

Moral Licensing Effect

Does doing a good deed make you more likely to repeat the behavior? For a lot of people, it has the exact opposite effect. After completing a positive action, a lot of us feel we now have license to do something bad.

We feel we’ve turned in an exemplary performance and that earns us a morality get-out-of-jail free pass. We tend to see morality as if it’s an old-time scale of justice. Most of us seek a balance somewhere smack dab in the middle, between righteousness and debauchery.

And future intensions count as well. When we make a plan to discontinue a bad habit or start a good habit, we believe we can indulge in that bad behavior right up until we begin the change. For example, if we plan to start eating healthy next month, we believe we can binge eat right up until the planned start. We believe ourselves worthy of indulgence because we assure ourselves we’ll burn off all those calories soon.