Moral in the morning, lying in the evening, cheating by suppertime…

Of course it is another paper demonstrating great insight into human behaviour with far reaching conclusions. Needless to say it is a hypothesis dreamed up by social psychologists.

Is it good science? Unlikely. Is it trivial? Undoubtedly. Does it provide real empirical data? Yes. Is it relevant? Hardly.

Is it even science?  

Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H. Smith, The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical BehaviorPsychological Science, October 28, 2013,  doi: 10.1177/0956797613498099

Kouchacki is a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University and completed her doctoral studies at the University of Utah, where Smith is a current doctoral student. Kouchaki has been involved with a previous “priming” study about the effect of thinking about money on morality. And as is now well known, most “priming” studies are highly suspect.

It is not for nothing that the the APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology.

The authors conducted experiments on college-age participants and on a sample of on-line participants:

  1. … college-age participants were shown various patterns of dots on a computer. For each pattern, they were asked to identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen. Importantly, participants were not given money for getting correct answers, but were instead given money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots; they were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. Participants therefore had a financial incentive to select the right, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left, which would be a case of clear cheating.
  2. … also tested participants’ moral awareness in both the morning and afternoon by presenting them with word fragments such as “_ _RAL” and “E_ _ _ C_ _”

Their results showed that in line with their hypothesis, participants tested between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm were less likely to cheat than those tested between 12:00 pm and 6:00pm — a phenomenon the researchers call the “morning morality effect.” In the second experiment morning participants were more likely to form the words “moral” and “ethical,” whereas the afternoon participants tended to form the words “coral” and “effects,” lending further support to the morning morality effect.

Clearly the arduous field-work consisted of wandering around their dangerous college campus(es) soliciting subjects and then spending many long-nights on-line to get their “on-line” sample.

…. both undergraduate students and a sample of U.S. adults engaged in less unethical behavior (e.g., less lying and cheating) on tasks performed in the morning than on the same tasks performed in the afternoon. This morning morality effect was mediated by decreases in moral awareness and self-control in the afternoon. Furthermore, the effect of time of day on unethical behavior was found to be stronger for people with a lower propensity to morally disengage. These findings highlight a simple yet pervasive factor (i.e., the time of day) that has important implications for moral behavior.

Presumably a good afternoon nap could restore our moral behaviour in the evenings?

It seems to me that the hypothesis has been designed/invented primarily to grab headlines and to ensure publication.


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