It's surely happened to you to find out about a perfectly nice person's wrong, immoral or even criminal behavior and feel blown away by the news, wondering how this is possible and why good people do bad things. Actually, I'm pretty confident every single one of us has something in our past - or even present - that we are not proud of. While some actions cannot be excusable, we still shouldn't be too quick to judge others (or yourself). Check out just some of the reasons why good people do bad things according to psychology.
1. Self Image
Dr. Muel Kaptein (Rotterdam School of Management) states self image is one of the most important reasons why good people do bad things. If you see yourself as powerless, determined by your environment or having your choices made for you, you will be more likely to engage in unethical behavior, as you feel less responsible for your actions. Those with more confidence and a strong sense of themselves, on the other hand, are less likely to bend the rules.
2. How Others See You
If others view you suspiciously and constantly treat you like you are a bad person, you are more likely to engage in immoral or illegal behavior, even though, initially you had absolutely no inclination towards such actions. This gets you thinking about society today, doesn't it?
3. The Trap of Euphemisms
Euphemisms and nicknames have the power to free unethical practices of their negative or immoral connotations. According to Kaptein, when fraud is called "financial engineering" or bribing becomes "greasing the wheels", questionable actions suddenly become more acceptable.
4. Sleep Deprivation
Numerous studies have shown how lack of sleep can affect our life and behavior. But did you know it also makes us more prone to unethical practices? This is what Chris Barnes of the Pamplin College of Business has recently discovered through his research.
5. We do Bad Things Because We Care
When we hear about unethical behavior at the workplace, such as fraud, we assume that the reason behind it is money. Well, Lamar Pierce of Washington University says it's not really so - not always. It can happen simply because we want to help others. And when we feel we're helping someone, we don't see our actions as unethical or harmful towards others. During his research, Pierce found that 20-50% of cars that should fail the emissions test are illicitly passed. And this was not necessarily due to bribery, but because the inspectors felt empathy towards the owners.
6. Time Pressure
In a study conducted by Princeton University, a group of theology students were told to preach the Good Samaritan story in a building and then report to another building, on the way to which they would encounter a "victim" that needed help. When there was no time limit to get to the other building, all subjects helped the distressed man. When they were told to arrive ASAP, 90% of the students ignored the "victim". How about that?
7. The Reactance Theory
Most rules are meant to prevent immoral actions, but they can backfire. When you consider a rule excessive or unjust or feel that it limits your freedom (even if you're wrong), you are much more likely to bend it and engage in bad behavior.
8. Punishments Backfire Too
Similarly, attaching punishments, such as fines, to unethical practices can lead to the opposite effect than the one intended. Once you cast something in those terms, it becomes an entirely different concept, losing its moral connotation. It's not about a certain behavior being right or wrong anymore; it rather becomes just a calculation regarding the potential punishment versus the likelihood of getting caught.
9. Obedience to Authority
One of the most common reasons why good people do bad things, obedience to authority, is engraved in our culture. When a person in a position of authority tells us to do something unethical, we may see ourselves as just an instrument of someone else's wishes, which minimizes our responsibility and makes bad behavior justifiable.
We are all prone to mistakes, but that doesn't necessarily make us evil. Just human. There can be many other psychological reasons why nice people may sometimes do bad things. Do you have any specific ones in mind?