Failure to replicate moral licensing and moral cleansing in an online experiment

Amanda Rotella*, Pat Barclay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Moral licensing occurs when someone who initially behaved morally or cooperatively, later behaves less morally, as if they had a “license” to act badly. On the flipside, moral cleansing occurs when someone first behaves immorally, which prompts them to later behaves more morally. To-date, few studies have investigated individual differences in the moral licensing and cleansing effects. This paper bridges this gap by investigating how cooperative preferences, as measured by social value orientation (SVO), influence engagement in these effects. We hypothesized that prosocial participants would be less likely to license, but more likely to cleanse. Contrary to predictions, we did not replicate the moral licensing or moral cleansing effects, and cooperative preferences did not influence engagement in the effect. However, checks suggest that our manipulations were successful. We postulate that licensing and cleansing effects are unlikely to be elicited online.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109967
Number of pages4
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Early online date13 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


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