Have your heard of the phenomenon known as moral licensing?

A recently released study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology by a University of Michigan psychology graduate student Michael Hall, uncovered some interesting findings.

This Michigan graduate student studied 600 different Americans who:

“regularly reported their climate change beliefs, pro-environmental behavior, and other climate-change related measures”

His report divided the 600 Americans into three groups:

  1. “Highly Concerned,”
  2. “Cautiously Worried”
  3. and “Skeptical.”

Those Americans in the “skeptical” category were most opposed to enacting government regulations to address “global warming”. Those in the “Highly Concerned” category were much more in favor of government intervention to address “global warming”.

He then measured how frequently these 600 Americans participated in “green” behavior such as:

  • using public transportation,
  • purchasing environmentally friendly products,
  • using reusable shopping bags,
  • and recycling.

What is very interesting is what he uncovered during the course of his study.  From the abstract of the study he found that:

the “Highly Concerned” were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions, whereas the “Skeptical” opposed policy solutions but were most likely to report engaging in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors.

Very interesting would you not agree?

In attempting to try and understand why those who believe in “global warming” and want government to do something about it but where the least likely to report individual-level actions he pointed to a phenomenon known as moral licensing.

Moral licensing is when people will typically engage in “bad” behavior if they feel they have earned their good graces with another action.

What does this mean, well according to an article in the Business Insider a study from Stanford University found the following:

When under the threat that their next action might be (or appear to be) morally dubious, individuals can derive confidence from their past moral behavior...Such that an impeccable track record increases their propensity to engage in otherwise suspect actions.

The article went on to attempt to explain this when they reported:

In other words, when we are confident we have behaved well in the past, and our actions demonstrate compassion and generosity, we are more likely to explain away acts that are selfish, bigoted, or thoughtless.

Moral licensing, is that how they attempt to get around their careless behavior?

It appears us “skeptical” people truly do care more about the issue in the way we actually attempt to do something about it and not just talk about it.  We actually prove our concerns with our actions and not our mouths.