Showing posts with label integrity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label integrity. Show all posts

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Elliot Aronson on Hypocrisy

Today's post is by Elliot Aronson (pictured below), Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, and author of The Social Animal and Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), with Carol Tavris.

Social psychologists define hypocrisy as behaving contrary to one’s values or beliefs; in common vernacular, it can be defined as the failure to practice what one preaches.

I think that just about everybody wants to see themselves as a person of integrity. It is a very powerful desire that transcends individual differences due to age, gender, race, socio-economic status, and nationality. This quest to maintain a self-image of integrity is quite touching; at the same time, it often distorts our memory or causes us to stretch to find justifications for actions that might appear hypocritical. Thus, it is far easier to see hypocrisy in others than it is to see it in oneself. If there are individual differences they lie not in the ability to behave hypocritically, but in the ability either to blind oneself to our past behavior or to find ways justify our behavior which unbiased observers might judge to be hypocritical.

People will attempt to defend against seeing themselves as hypocrites through forgetting, compartmentalization, or some form of self-justification. To take one example from contemporary American politics, whenever journalists have confronted Donald Trump about having said something in the recent past that contradicts his current position, he will frequently respond by denying that he ever said that—even though video tape exists of his having said it on national TV—just a week or two ago. Politicians usually avoid telling outright lies that can easily be exposed via video. Accordingly, I am convinced that Trump was not deliberately lying but that he actually did forget that he said the very thing that he now denies having said.

When motivated forgetting fails, people will try to invent reasons that justify their actions. For example, in Stanley Milgram’s classic experiment on obedience, he showed that two thirds of his subjects gave what they believed to be near lethal electric shocks to an innocent person in obedience to an authority figure. These people generally regarded themselves as decent human beings. When interviewed afterward, often justified their behavior by claiming that they had no choice because they had committed themselves to participating in the research. Therefore they felt obliged to continue administering shocks—even though they firmly believed they were harming the victim. In addition, many actually convinced themselves that their victim, in some obscure way, deserved what he got.