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Unformatted text preview: Moral Rationalization and the Integration of Situational Factors and Psychological Processes in Immoral Behavior Jo-Ann Tsang Southern Methodist University Moral rationalization is an individuals ability to reinterpret his or her immoral actions as, in fact, moral. It arises out of a conict of motivations and a need to see the self as moral. This article presents a model of evil behavior demonstrating how situational factors that obscure moral relevance can interact with moral rationalization and lead to a violation of moral principles. Concepts such as cognitive dissonance and self- afrmation are used to explain the processes underlying moral rationalization, and different possible methods of moral rationalization are described. Also, research on moral rationalization and its prevention is reviewed. Religious scholars, philosophers, and lay- people alike have been puzzled for centuries over the problem of evil. When horrendous atrocities such as the Holocaust occur, people scramble for explanations, but they seem to raise more questions than answers. How could a group like the Nazis get away with such ex- treme immorality? Why did entire societies seem to close their eyes to the evil around them? How can we act to prevent such moral mon- strosities in the future? To answer these questions, people often turn to dispositional explanations to describe the or- igin of evil behavior (see Darley, 1992, for an extended discussion of naive theories of evil). Laypeople often posit that pathology or charac- ter aws cause evil individuals to disregard moral standards and commit evil. Psychologists have long stated that moral standards are im- portant in bringing control and order into our relations with others and to society as a whole (e.g., Freud, 1930). These standards are learned early in life so that by the time most individuals become adults, they have internalized what Bandura (1990, 1991) termed moral self-sanc- tions, what Freud labeled the superego, and what is called in everyday language our conscience. Whatever the name given to these internal- ized moral principles, it is clear that morality is so ingrained in people that they are not easily ignored (Bandura, 1991). But how does one explain, then, the prevalence of crime through- out all societies? A dispositional approach might focus on the idea that because of certain psychopathologies, some people have failed to internalize the moral standards of society and thus perform evil deeds with impunity. Or at the very least, immoral individuals have certain personality characteristics that predispose them to psychological processes that make it easier to act immorally (e.g., Post, 1990). In other words, evil actions come from evil people....
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