The study has indicated that people with ample moral self-worth in one aspect of their lives can slip into immorality or opposite behaviour in other areas-their abundant self-esteem somehow pushes them to balance out all that goodness.
On the other hand, the study by Douglas Medin, a professor of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, showed that people who engage in immoral behaviour cleanse themselves with good work.
The study’s model shows that the cleansing also has to do with restoring an ideal level of moral self-worth.
This means that when people operate above or below a certain level of moral self-worth, they instinctively push back in the opposite direction to reach an internally regulated set point of goodness.
"If people feel too moral. they might not have sufficient incentive to engage in moral action because of the costliness of being good," said a co-author of the study.
Past studies have shown that people are motivated both by the warm glow that results from good behaviour and recognition of costly, long-term consequences of immoral behaviour on kin and society at large.
But the Northwestern study has for the first time shown that perhaps people whose glow is much warmer than average are more likely to regulate behaviour by acting in an opposite manner or passing up opportunities to behave morally.
"Imagine a line on a plane. If you go above the line, you feel pressure to come back down. The only way you can come back down is either by refraining from good social behavior or by actively engaging in immoral behaviour," Sachdeva said.
"If you do extra good deeds, you’re motivated to come back down on that internal barometer," Iliev added.
The researchers drew their results on the basis of three experiments, which included 46 participants
They stressed on cross-cultural differences in their model, suspecting, for example, if they ran tests in India, where people’s actions are more interdependent, the results would be different.
The study, titled ‘Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation’, has been published in the journal Psychological Science.