Moral Memories and the Belief in the Good Self
Most people believe they are morally good, and this belief plays an integral role in constructions of personal identity. Yet people commit moral transgressions with surprising frequency in everyday life. In this article, we characterize two mechanisms involving autobiographical memory that are utilized to foster a belief in a morally good self in the present—despite frequent and repeated immoral behavior. First, there is a tendency for people to willfully and actively forget details about their own moral transgressions but not about their own morally praiseworthy deeds. Second, when past moral transgressions are not forgotten, people strategically compare their more recent unethical behaviors with their more distant unethical behaviors to foster a perception of personal moral improvement over time. This, in turn, helps to portray the current self favorably. These two complementary mechanisms help to explain pervasive inconsistencies between people’s personal beliefs about their own moral goodness and the frequency with which they behave immorally.
Stanley, ML; De Brigard, F
Volume / Issue
Start / End Page
Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)