Under the Hood

Stay True To Yourself To Avoid Feeling Dirty All Over; How Cheating, Lying Can Lead To Charitable Actions

Inauthentic
People who lie or cheat may find themselves feeling unclean, and thus try to redeem themselves through charitable actions. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

To thine own self be true, as Shakespeare would say, or you may wind up feeling dirty. A collaborative effort between psychological scientists from Harvard Business School, Northwestern University’s Management School, and Columbia Business School looked at what happens when you stray away from your true self. The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, reveal being inauthentic leads to feelings of impurity.

"Our work shows that feeling inauthentic is not a fleeting or cursory phenomenon — it cuts to the very essence of what it means to be a moral person," said the study’s co-author Maryam Kouchaki, a researcher at Northwestern University, in a press release. “We are very much interested in better understanding both the psychological and behavioral consequences of authenticity and inauthenticity and are further examining the power of such experiences."

Have you ever done something so morally compromising you need to take a shower? There’s a reason you want to wash off your behavior. Researchers asked participants to write about a time they felt inauthentic or lost touch with their true selves. Afterwards, they were more likely to report having lower moral self-regard, being less generous, and more uncooperative when compared to those who were asked to recall and write down a time when they felt authentic. Those who admitted to being false in the past described themselves as “impure,” “dirty,” or “tainted.”

They were then asked to fill in the missing letters of words. Participants who reported feeling inauthentic were more likely to create cleansing-related words. For example, “w_ _h” was more likely to be filled in with letters spelling “wash” than “wish” or “with.” Not only did they fall back on cleansing words more frequently, but they were also more likely to engage in cleansing behaviors when compared to those who reported staying true to themselves.

After these tests, the researchers asked each participant to help them with a 15-minute survey. Those who recalled inauthentic moments in their life were more likely to put time aside to fill out the survey. Meanwhile those who reported authenticity were less likely.

From a psychological standpoint, researchers believe this could mean fakers, cheaters, and liars are more likely to perform good deeds to make up for their tainted and immoral behavior. The psychological discomfort that comes from doing something inauthentic leads to charitable tasks in order to instinctively drive yourself back to virtue.

"In order to be responsive to various demands from customers, co-workers, and upper management, individuals may find themselves behaving in ways that are not consistent with their 'true self,’” Kouchaki said. “In the service industry, for example, service employees are asked to follow precise scripts and use recommended expressions regardless of their true cognitions and feelings."

Source: Galinsky AD, Gino F, and Kouchaki M. The Moral Virtue of Authenticity: How Inauthenticity Produces Feelings of Immorality and Impurity. Psychological Science. 2015.

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