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The Morning Morality Effect And Why People Cheat (Mostly) In The Afternoon

by / / Academic Integrity, Blog, Online Cheating, Student Integrity, Test Cheating

What would possibly prevent you from cheating in the morning, but not in the afternoon? According to a new study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, willpower.

Researchers from Harvard and Utah universities looked into how something as simple as the time of the day and fatigue affects moral behavior. They discovered that people run out of willpower and moral awareness as the day progresses. People’s willpower and self-control may not be infinite, and each person could have a daily quota. Is it possible that the more we put them into use (during the day on routine, trivial matters), the less we have available? The depletion of self-control and the capacity to stay faithful to one’s ethical standards makes people prone to behaving in a morally questionable manner, especially during testing scenarios.

This study challenges the assumption that moral behavior is solely informed by one’s ethical standards and moral compass. The researchers conducted various experiments to test this hypothesis.

One experiment was with two groups of people, one of which was tested in the morning and the other between noon and 6p.m. Both groups were asked to identify which side of a computer screen contained the more dots. Whenever the left half had more dots the participants were paid a small amount of money, when the right half had more they were paid ten times that amount. Those tested in the afternoon found it harder to ignore the temptation to cheat. The results gave rise to the Morning Morality Effect concept; that people are more likely to behave ethically in the morning when their willpower and self-control are strong.

The study helps us understand the underlying principles of moral behavior. The latter is not exclusively associated with personal integrity; other parameters such as willpower, self-control and fatigue need to be also considered.

Being moral takes willpower and self-control— both of which are energy depleting. The more we use them during the day, the less of them we have. Knowing that people are more likely to yield to temptation in the afternoon, could serve as a guideline for being extra cautious with p.m. examinations in schools and offices.


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