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Sugaring o'er the devil: Moral superiority and group identification help individuals downplay the implications of ingroup rule-breaking


Aarti Iyer, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.



We examined how a group's claim to moral superiority influences evaluations of rule-breaking by ingroup members. Moral superiority was manipulated among researchers (Study 1) and British citizens (Study 2), after which group members were presented with ingroup rule-breakers: a researcher violating ethical rules (Study 1) and British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners (Study 2). In both studies, higher and lower identifiers in the control condition perceived the rule-breaking as equally damaging, evaluated the rule-breakers equally negatively and recommended equally harsh punishments. When the group had taken the moral high ground, lower identifiers perceived the rule-breaking as more damaging than did higher identifiers. In addition, higher identifiers evaluated the rule-breakers less negatively and recommended more lenient punishments. Results of mediation analyses demonstrated that negative evaluations of, and recommended punishment for, the rule-breakers were explained by the perceived damage that their behaviour caused to the ingroup. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.