People Who Cheat, Commit Immoral Acts Are Less Likely To Follow Their Intuition

Intuition
People more prone to following their gut instinct are less likely to cheat and commit immoral acts, a new study finds. Bob May, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Regularly follow your intuition? You may be less likely to cheat, according to a new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Sarah J. Ward, a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, worked with her psychology professor Laura A. King to determine the benefits of being prone to intuition. Also known as "gut instinct," intuition is defined as "the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning." Prior research suggests intuition can shed light on everything from depression to social intelligence.

"Some people trust their gut feelings when making decisions, whereas other people are less reliant on them and don't pay much heed to gut feelings even if they do experience them," Ward said in a press release. "We were interested in studying how individual differences in intuition affect moral behavior and other relevant outcomes."

Ward conducted two experiments designed to determine if relying on intuition affected moral behavior. She recruited more than 100 participants (mostly women) and asked each participant to answer a series of questions related to intuition.  The first experiment asked participants to read a story explaining how they’d done something wrong at work, but blamed it on a co-worker. Participants serving as the control read a similar story, but took responsibility for their mistakes.

Some studies suggest people acting immorally feel guilty afterward, causing feelings of shame and guilt. Ward predicted, then, participants reading a story about blaming their mistakes to a co-worker would be more likely to pay for hand-cleaning products, like hand sanitizer.

"If you feel badly about a moral transgression, you might want to cleanse yourself," Ward said. "Our study found that participants who were more reliant on intuition were willing to pay more for hand sanitizer after reading about a moral transgression."

In the second experiment, participants were asked to write about a time they acted immorally before taking an unsolvable IQ test. This time Ward wanted to see if more intuitive individuals would be more likely to cheat on their test. The test was 10 questions, and participants were told the top 10 percent would receive a lottery ticket as an incentive to cheat.

The results showed 23 percent of participants cheated, which showed Ward people relying on their gut instinct "are less likely to cheat after reflecting on a time when they behaved immorally." One idea is that people try and compensate for bad behavior by acting morally in the present, she said.

Out in the real world, Ward believes at work, it might be beneficial for people to listen more to their intuition when making morally relevant decisions.

Source: Ward SJ, King LA. Individual differences in intuitive processing moderate responses to moral transgressions. Personality and Individual Differences. 2015.

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