Do the Right Thing?

Study: People behave badly if it’s the easier option

(RxWiki News) New research from the University of Toronto Scarborough tested participants' willingness to behave immorally, and the results are surprisingly naughty.

The UTSC team discovered most people will behave badly – if it doesn’t require much effort.


In one test, participants took a math quiz and were told if they pressed the space bar, the answer to the question would pop up on screen because of a computer glitch. Another group was told that the answer to each math question would appear on screen if they didn’t press the enter key within five seconds of seeing the question. People in the second group were much more likely to cheat, according to researchers.

Other tests, including one that asked participants whether they would volunteer to help a student with a learning disability complete a component of the test, found that if people were confronted with a choice that included clicking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option, they were more likely to help then if they were asked to follow a link with information about helping.

"When people are confronted with actively doing the right thing or the wrong thing, there are a lot of emotions involved – such as guilt and shame – that guide them to make the moral choice,” said Rimma Teper, PhD student and lead author on the study, published online now in Social Psychological and Personality Science. “When the transgression is more passive, however, we saw more people doing the wrong thing, and we believe this is because the moral emotions in such situations are probably less intense.”

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Review Date: 
November 23, 2010