Calculating Hypocrites Effect: Moral judgments of word-deed contradictory transgressions depend on targets' competence

Mengchen Dong*, Jan Willem van Prooijen, Paul A.M. van Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


People often say one thing while doing another, and are therefore criticized as hypocrites. Despite the widespread criticism of hypocrites, relatively less is known about factors that influence moral judgment of hypocrisy. In particular, why are some word-deed inconsistencies condemned more harshly than others? The current research focuses on word-deed inconsistency as a common manifestation of hypocrisy, and examines targets' competence as one important factor that influences moral judgment of hypocrisy. We propose and test a Calculating Hypocrites Effect that people perceive hypocrites as less moral than non-hypocrites (i.e., who transgress with vs. without inconsistent claims), particularly when the targets are high rather than low on competence. Across four studies where competence was either measured (Study 1) or manipulated as expertise (Study 2), occupational status (Study 3) and skills (Study 4), we found support for the presumed Calculating Hypocrites Effect. When the targets were high (vs. low) on competence, people interpreted their misaligned words with deeds as more intentional (Study 2) and self-interested (Study 4), which in turn accounted for their severity of moral judgment. Moreover, the Calculating Hypocrites Effect applied even when the targets were competent in domains unrelated to their hypocritical deeds (Study 3). We conclude that perception of competence is an important factor that determines when, and for whom, hypocrisy incurs moral outrage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-501
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Theoretical Social Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date6 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by China Scholarship Council under Grant (number 201606040158).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC


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