Far is Hypocritical

Far mode tends to make people more hypocritical in two ways. First, as I discussed before, it makes us think more in moral terms when our acts have weaker personal consequences:

Situations should be more readily construed in terms of moral principles when they occurred further back in the past, when they apply to more socially or spatially distant individuals or groups, and when they are less likely actually to occur. … Moral principles and values guide judgments and plans for psychologically distant situations more than for psychologically near situations. These results reveal an intriguing phenomenon: Highly cherished concerns in one’s self-concept may influence judgments and plans regarding distant situations (e.g., distant future, distant others, distant places, unlikely events) but then fail to be enacted when the time and place of implementation approaches. (more)

Second, far mode seems to more directly induce us to apply stricter standards to others than to ourselves. We see this clearly regarding power.  Power makes us think far:

In 6 experiments involving both conceptual and perceptual tasks, priming high power led to more abstract processing than did priming low power, even when this led to worse performance. Experiment 7 revealed that in line with past neuropsychological research on abstract thinking, priming high power also led to greater relative right-hemispheric activation.

And power also makes us hypocritical:

In one experiment the “powerful” participants condemned the cheating of others while cheating more themselves. … When given a chance to cheat on a dice game to win lottery tickets (played alone in the privacy of a cubicle), the powerful people reported winning a higher amount of lottery tickets than did low-power participants. … In all cases, those assigned to high-power roles showed significant moral hypocrisy by more strictly judging others for speeding, dodging taxes and keeping a stolen bike, while finding it more acceptable to engage in these behaviors themselves.

I suspect power is related to both far and hypocrisy because far is related to hypocrisy. It seems that our capacity to switch between near and far modes was an important enabler of our becoming homo hypocritus.  If far-hypocrisy is a credible signal of power, is that part of why we tolerate so much hypocrisy from our elites?

Added 14May: As this study (HT Eric Barker) illustrates, we tend to think ourselves less personally responsible for events that are further away.  So we prefer to see something bad we did as having happened further back in time, or as having been caused by a larger social group.  But it is not clear we are actually less responsible for such events.  This effect also makes use more willing to embrace high principles in far mode.

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  • bock

    hypocrisy is happiness

  • Anonim

    Do the voting masses really perceive as much hypocrisy as you do? I want to believe that the majority is simply dumber or not willing to analyze things in much detail, or looking at world just to choose who will present them the right social and intellectual system and priorities and not what is objectively true or what is best. It’s a different mode of thinking and I wouldn’t suspect that people deal every day with a question how much more hypocrisy their self-concept and integrity can bear (given that they know some things better than the leaders). Also, memory is short and shallow and normal people don’t dig that much in facts, literature and the Internet.

    “If far-hypocrisy is a credible signal of power, is that part of why we tolerate so much hypocrisy from our elites?”

    The majority at least believes the idea that they choose and empower their leaders and they can revoke them. I can’t imagine how people could keep the evidence and be aware all the time that their leaders lie (hypocritically) about so much things influencing their lives without rioting. Realization that something is not true and is a hypocritical half-truth can’t signal anything good like power. The signal receivers in Western civilization wouldn’t respect it identifying it as a lie.

    Well, these are just some private thoughts gathered in Poland and not in the USA. And I realize that rare lies or presented to few people at each time might be OK for the powerful, but not lying all the time as a form of signalling who rules and who can ignore others.

  • Anonim

    Oh, to make it clear, when mentioning the majority of voters I am thinking of people who wouldn’t be able to talk to you about this issue because of having drunk too much on the recent football match or having general cognition problems or something like that outside the academia.

    And of course the wider and wider usage of the facts on the Internet has a potential to change societies against the power of leaders in the long run.

  • Jordan

    I regularly say “I will do X at time Y, and I mean it.” or “If I found myself in situation X, I would do Y, unlike the person from that story.” Those present have no objection to my plan, and agree entirely that that’s what should be done.

    Being some kind of marginal sociopath, I actually follow up on these things.

    The reactions of those same people are remarkable. The sheer audacity of doing X right this moment! The cold-hearted cruelty of doing Y now that we are in situation X right this second!

    In light of these people agreeing with me on concepts and ideals but then suddenly changing their tone towards moderation and leniency when it comes time to put them in practice, this article strikes me as something very true and common to apparently virtually all humans – but not myself – a state of affairs which has vexed me a great deal in my lifetime to date.

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : Near-Far Summary

  • Carl Shulman

    Apparently the “power and hypocrisy” study was fraudulent.

    • Carl Shulman

      Or at least published by a researcher who has been canned for systematic fraud in many of his papers.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Alas, alas.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        You updated this post once before. How about updating it again?