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【Review】Xiao-Ping Chen: Moral Consistency or Moral Licensing?

 IACMR Research Seminar Series Session #2

The second session of IACMR Research Seminar Series was launched on July 22 via Zoom. The speaker was Professor Xiao-Ping Chen from University of Washington. The topic of her speech was Moral Consistency or Moral Licensing? The Conceptualization of Moral Elasticity Quotient and a Preliminary Test. The webinar was hosted by Jia (Jasmine) Hu from the Ohio State University, she is the Co- Chair of IACMR Research Committee. More than 300 people participated in this session. More IACMR Research Seminar Series sessions will be monthly delivered by scholars around the world.

In the beginning of her talk, Xiao-Ping Chen mentioned a book written by Adam Grant called Give and Take. By introducing two people in the book, Adam Rifkin and Ken Lay, she started to talk about moral consistency and moral licensing.

The research questions are as follows:

◆ Is there a unified theoretical account to simultaneously explain the moral consistency and moral licensing phenomena?

Why do some people continue to do morally consistent behaviors after doing good deeds, whereas other people engage in morally questionable behaviors?

What motivates people to continue doing good deeds and what makes them feel that they have the license to do something bad after doing good deeds?

Applying the adaptation-level theory (Helson, 1964) in the context of moral decision making, Prof. Chen and her team proposed and formulated a moral elasticity quotient (MEQ) and articulated how it regulates people’s morally consistent and inconsistent (licensing) behaviors. Underpinning this quotient is how people engage in a psychological process in which they compare the moral significance of past good deeds to their moral ideal standard. When the moral significance of past good deeds is inferior to moral ideal standard (MEQ <1), people will continue doing good deeds, whereas when MEQ >1, they will feel licensed to engage in morally questionable behaviors. Furthermore, ethical leadership creates an ambient social context for people to adapt to in a way that it will moderate the relationship between one’s MEQ level and subsequent moral behaviors. Results from three studies with diverse methodologies provide consistent evidence for our theoretical model.

In the end, Prof. Chen provided practical implications: 

Please click here to watch the full video of the research.