Self-enhancement in moral hypocrisy: Moral superiority and moral identity are about better appearances

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


People often consider themselves as more moral than average others (i.e., moral superiority) and present themselves as more moral than they actually are (i.e., moral hypocrisy). We examined whether feelings of moral superiority—as a manifestation of self-enhancement motives—motivates people’s hypocritical behavior, that is, their discrepant moral performances in public versus private settings. In three studies (total N = 1,151), participants distributed two tasks (one favorable and one unfavorable) between themselves and an anonymous partner, with the option of using an ostensibly fair randomizer (e.g., a self-prepared coin). We found that when experiencing feelings of moral superiority (vs. non-superiority), people, especially those who highly identified with moral values (Studies 1 and 2), were less likely to directly give themselves the favorable task, but they were not less likely to cheat in private after using the randomizer (Studies 1 to 3). Both self-enhancement motives and moral identity have implications for hypocritical behavior, by motivating public moral appearances but not private moral integrity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0219382
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Self-enhancement in moral hypocrisy: Moral superiority and moral identity are about better appearances'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this