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A limited but growing literature contends that licensing can operate by committing to a virtuous act in a preceding choice, which reduces negative self-attributions associated with donating less or behaving less virtuously in the succeeding decision. Psychological research and behavioral economics strongly suggest that pre-existing intrinsic motivations of individuals play a major role in determining their subsequent choices when faced with a voluntary or mandatory virtuous ‘act’. In this paper, we report the results of a pilot experimental study examining licensing effect in the environmental realm, using a 2 (mandatory or voluntary nature of the virtuous act) X 2 (intrinsically or non-intrinsically motivated individuals) between subjects design. We found that intrinsically motivated and non-intrinsically motivated subjects reacted adversely to the two policy scenarios. The licensing effect occurs when combining intrinsically (resp., non-intrinsically) motivated individuals and mandatory (resp. voluntary) conditions.
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« Do Good Deeds Make Bad People? »
Sophie CLOT,
Gilles GROLLEAU,
Lisette IBANEZ
DR n°2011-21
1
Do Good Deeds Make Bad People?
1
November 2011
Sophie Clot
Montpellier SupAgro, UMR 1135 LAMETA, F-34000 Montpellier, France
Gilles Grolleau
Montpellier SupAgro, UMR 1135 LAMETA, F-34000 Montpellier, France
Lisette Ibanez
INRA, UMR 1135 LAMETA, F-34000 Montpellier, France
Abstract: A limited but growing literature contends that licensing can operate by committing to a
virtuous act in a preceding choice, which reduces negative self-attributions associated with donating
less or behaving less virtuously in the succeeding decision. Psychological research and behavioral
economics strongly suggest that pre-existing intrinsic motivations of individuals play a major role in
determining their subsequent choices when faced with a voluntary or mandatory virtuous ‘act’. In
this paper, we report the results of a pilot experimental study examining licensing effect in the
environmental realm, using a 2 (mandatory or voluntary nature of the virtuous act) X 2 (intrinsically
or non-intrinsically motivated individuals) between subjects design. We found that intrinsically
motivated and non-intrinsically motivated subjects reacted adversely to the two policy scenarios. The
licensing effect occurs when combining intrinsically (resp., non-intrinsically) motivated individuals
and mandatory (resp. voluntary) conditions.
Key words: Licensing effect, environmental policies, behavioural incentives
JEL: Q50, D03, D04
1
We gratefully acknowledge Nina Mazar, Sandrine Costa, Kate Farrow and Naoufel Mzoughi for constructive
comments as well as participants at PERENE workgroup. We also thank Claire Mangani, Sébastien Roussel,
Mélanie Jaeck and Peguy Ndodjang for having facilitated data collection. The usual disclaimer applies.
2
Do Good Deeds Make Bad People?
1. Introduction
Does a commitment to a virtuous act encourage us to behave more virtuously or free us to behave
less virtuously in subsequent acts? For example, Monbiot (2009) reports the story of a couple who
‘earned so many vouchers from recycling at Tesco (a U.K. retailer) that they were able to fly to the
Caribbean for a holiday. The greenhouse gases caused by these flights outweigh any likely savings
from recycling hundreds or thousands of times over.’ A small and recent, but growing body of
experimental research (in numerous areas) has been devoted to understanding how people license
themselves based on prior behaviors to pursue inconsistent goals (e.g., Khan and Dhar, 2006;
Sachdeva et al., 2009; Mazar and Zhong, 2010; Chiou and al., 2011). For instance, Chiou and al.
(2011) showed that smokers who believed they were taking a dietary supplement smoked more
cigarettes than did controls, presumably because they think the supplements will protect them
against smoking’s ill effects. Nevertheless, as far as we know, no study has examined what happens if
the ‘virtuous’ act is imposed on individuals or freely chosen by them. Psychological research and
behavioral economics strongly suggest that pre-existing or intrinsic motivations play a major role in
determining people’s subsequent choices when faced with a voluntary or mandatory virtuous ‘act’.
In this paper, we report the results of a pilot experimental study examining licensing effect in the
environmental realm. Our 2 (mandatory or voluntary nature of the virtuous act) X 2 (intrinsically
motivated or non-intrinsically motivated individuals) between-subjects design extends the literature
in at least two dimensions. First, we test whether the licensing effect occurs when the virtuous act is
voluntarily or mandatorily generated. Indeed, in the environmental realm people frequently face
either an obligation to adopt some behaviors (e.g., speed limits to reduce pollution) or are simply
encouraged to adopt others (e.g., Earth hour). Second, we examine the effect of the way the virtuous
act is generated (voluntarily or mandatorily) according to whether individuals are either intrinsically
motivated or not. We are aware of no other study of this type in the licensing effect literature.
A mixed set of results emerges from our experiment. We found that intrinsically motivated or non-
intrinsically motivated subjects reacted adversely to the two policy scenarios. More precisely, the
3
licensing effect occurs when combining intrinsically (non-intrinsically) motivated individuals and
mandatory (voluntary) conditions.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. The next section overviews the related literature
and introduces our hypotheses. Section 3 exposes the empirical strategy. The results are presented
and discussed in section 4. Section 5 provides some policy implications and concludes.
2. Overview of related literature and hypotheses
According to prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979), people do not have absolute
preference, but rather preferences that are relative to some anchor point. If one of the key
contributions has been to empirically prove that preferences are endogenous, the relation between
passed actions and subsequent decisions remains largely unexplored.
The idea of a licensing effect has been emerging recently. The literature in marketing and psychology
hold several recent works (Table 1) showing that moral licensing can operate by committing to a
virtuous act in a preceding choice, which reduces negative self-attributions associated with donating
less or behaving less virtuously in the succeeding decision.
Khan and Dhar (2006) studied individuals’ decision process in terms of luxury products consumption.
They first found out in a pretest that luxury products are associated with less moral attributes. They
then demonstrated how an initial situation referring to a charity act, could influence preferences for
unnecessary or extravagant items in subsequent decisions. The results of their experience show that
preference for luxury items was significantly higher in the case of a preceding charity action (license
condition), than in the case where no prior charity action (control condition) had to be undertaken
first (i.e. 57.4% selected a luxury item in the license condition vs. 27.7% in the control condition).
Also, participants rated themselves significantly more positively on a 7 points scale within four
attributes
2
(i.e. “I am compassionate”, “I am sympathetic”, “I am warm”, and I am helpful”) in the
licensing condition, meaning that an initial altruistic intent boosts the self-concept and may liberate
people to choose more indulgent options (i.e. average of feelings was 5.76 in the license condition vs.
4.79 in the control condition).
2
These items were utilized because they indicated a high degree of reliability in terms of coefficient
alpha (Cronbach’s α=0.84)
4
Studying this behavioural mechanism in the case of altruism and charity donation, Sachdeva, Iliev
and Medin (2009) found that moral regulation mechanisms might happen in the reverse order and
create a compensation effect (behaving ‘indulgently’ first and then compensate with a more virtuous
act). The authors hypothesized that priming people with positive and negative traits in a first stage
will affect subsequent moral behaviour in terms of donation to a charity found. Their results show
that among the 46 individuals who participated in the survey, those who wrote something positive
about themselves gave one fifth as much as those who wrote a story referring to negative traits
(average amount of donation was $1.07 over $10 in the positive condition vs. $5.30 in the negative
condition). They observed that if people feel as if they have been less ethical than they should, they
might compensate by behaving more morally in a subsequent context. The authors included this set
of compensatory behaviours under a blanket term of “moral cleansing”, which refers to actions
people engage in when their moral self-value has been threatened.
Mazar and Zhong (2010) examined the moral licensing effect in the field of the environment. The
authors addressed two main questions: 1) the impact of exposure vs. purchase on moral licensing
effect and 2) how far the regulation process may lead people to behave unethically. First, the results
show that participants who were merely exposed to the green store shared more money in the
dictator game than those who were merely exposed to the conventional store (average amount
shared was $2.18 over $6 in the green store exposure condition vs. $1.59 in the conventional store
exposure condition), whereas participants who had purchased in the green store shared less money
than those who purchased in the conventional store (average amount shared was $1.76 over $6 in
the green store purchase condition vs. $2.12 in the conventional store purchase condition). Second,
the results also demonstrate that participants who chose to buy products from the green array were
more likely to purposefully behave dishonestly such as cheating and stealing in a subsequent task.
Mazar and Zong (2010) concluded that green products can establish enough moral capital to
encourage clear transgressions such as lying and stealing.
We could resume this literature review in three main points. First, a licensing effect does occur and it
matters in various domains. Second, it can happen in the reverse order ('compensation effect').
Third, when a high level of moral capital is 'credited', it can even lead to dishonesty and encourage
clear moral transgressions.
5
Table 1. Experimental studies devoted to the licensing effect
Authors and
publication year
Khan and Dhar (2006)
Sachdeva, Lliev and
Medin (2009)
Mazar and Zhong
(2010)
Chiou, Wan, Wu and Lee
(2011)
Jordan, Mullen, and
Murnighan (2011)
Experimental design:
virtuous act and
subsequent choices
Single-factor (help a
friend vs. control)
between-participants
design, followed by a
dictator game
Two-factors (personal
story writing using:
negative traits vs
positive traits vs
neutral traits),
between-participants
design, followed by a
dictator game
Single-factor (store:
conventional vs.
green) between-
participants design,
followed by a lying
and stealing games
Single-factor (credentials:
with or without)
between-participants
design
2 (target: self, other) × 2
(recall: moral, immoral)
between-participants
design
Type and nature of
subjects
80 Students
46 Students
90 students
80 Students
168 Students
Main results
Participants in the
licensing conditions
gave less than
participants in the
control group (Mean of
donation= $1.20 over
$2 vs $1.70)
Participants who wrote
a positive story about
themselves gave less
than the two other
groups (Mean of
donation= $1.07 over
$10 vs $5.30 for those
in the negative
condition and $2.71 for
those in the neutral
condition)
Participants in the
green store took in
total (due to both
lying and stealing) on
average $0.83 more
than those in the
conventional store
(over $2.93).
Credentials created by
vitamins use can increase
smokers’ comfort with
consuming more
cigarettes.
Increased invulnerability
is associated with
attitudes towards dietary
supplements (r=0.39, P <
0.001).
Recalling (im)moral
behavior affects an
individual’s reported
moral behavior and moral
intentions but also affects
an individual’s actual
(im)moral behavior. The
morality ratings are
positively correlated with
the magnitude of
cheating (r = .34, p = .002)
These effects did not
emerge when recalling
other’s im(moral)
behavior.
6
Behavioral hypotheses
Rewarding or imposing constraints on individuals can push them to adopt behaviors that will not be
adopted otherwise. In plausible circumstances, demonstration of authority such as rules and laws
could build norms, by suggesting that an event is important enough to justify a costly intervention
(Nyborg, 1999). Nevertheless, if intrinsic motivations preexist, introducing additional external
incentives (e.g. authoritarian decision; monetary rewards) to reinforce the intrinsically motivated
behavior can backfire (Frey and Oberholzer-Gee, 1997; Frey and Jegen, 2001; Bowles, 2008). A
growing literature argues that external interventions crowd out intrinsic motivation (Bénabou and
Tirole, 2006) and some empirical evidence has been given by various authors in support (e.g., Gneezy
and Rustichini, 2000; Vollan, 2008; Bowles, 2008). The crowding out effect is more likely to occur
when external interventions are controlling (rather than supportive), the degree of participants’ self-
determination is low (rather than high) and the level of trust and reciprocity within a society is low
(Vollan, 2008). For instance, Chang and Lai (1999), found that a rise in monitoring intensity tends to
lower, rather than enhance, work effort. In relation with the previous literature, we formulate our
two main hypotheses:
H1: A mandatory ‘virtuous act’ by intrinsically (non-intrinsically) motivated individuals increases
(decreases) the licensing effect.
H2: A voluntary ‘virtuous act’ by intrinsically (non-intrinsically) motivated individuals decreases
(increases) the licensing effect.
The design of our experiment is presented in table 2. We investigate how two subgroups of the
population (intrinsically motivated vs. non-intrinsically motivated) react to the way the ‘good deed’
(mandatorily vs. voluntarily) is generated. We explore whether the licensing effect occurs and draw
some policy implications regarding the use of voluntary or mandatory instruments.
7
Table 2. Between subjects research design used to control for the conditions leading to the
licensing effect
Scenarios
Conditions
Intrinsically motivated individuals
Non-intrinsically motivated individuals
Mandatory ‘virtuous act’
Licensing effect
No licensing effect
Voluntary ‘virtuous act’
No licensing effect
Licensing effect
3. Experimental design
In the spring of 2011, we conducted a set of experiments with students at high education institutions
of Montpellier (South of France) from both business-related majors and environmental-related
majors. In line with previous analyses (Frank, 2003), we assume that students self-select and it is
well-known that students choose their majors at least partly because of their interests for the
studied domains
3
. We contend that individuals enrolled in environmental-related majors are
intrinsically motivated regarding environmental issues whereas individuals enrolled in business-
related majors are non-intrinsically motivated regarding the same issues
4
. These two types of
students should allow us to capture the potential effect of intrinsic motivation over our experimental
design. Participants were not informed previously that they will participate in an experiment to avoid
any selection bias. Students were already there for their lectures and the experiment was presented
as a classroom activity at the end of the lecture. Experiments lasted less than 5 mn. Participants were
not informed about the nature of the experiment we would be conducting or the treatment to which
they would be assigned. In each 30 students group, students were promised a 30€ prize by drawing
lots. This incentive compatibility method was preferred because of the well-known bias leading
people to overweight small probabilities (Chen and Jia, 2005; Burns, Chiu and Wu, 2010).
A subject’s experience followed four steps. First, all subjects received a copy of the instructions and
the monitor read the instructions aloud. Second, all subjects received closed envelopes containing a
3
This point is consistent with Frank’s finding (2003). Frank’s (2003) survey on Cornell graduates show
that 88 percent of socially concerned respondents would prefer a job for the American Cancer Society rather than
for Camel Cigarettes with an average compensating wage premium of about $ 24.000 per year. Cornell graduates
were invited to choose between pairs of hypothetical jobs where the job nature was the same but the employers’
social responsibility reputation was different.
4
For sake of exposition, we distinguish intrinsically motivated and non-intrinsically motivated but we are
conscious that the reality is more nuanced. In short, we contend that business-students also truly care about the
environment, but maybe not as strongly as environment-students.
8
questionnaire corresponding either to (i) a dictator game where they can share the 30€ prize with an
environmental union without any previous commitment to a virtuous act (=control group); (ii) the
possibility to commit voluntarily to an environmentally friendly act followed by the previously
described dictator game (=treatment one); (iii) the mandatory act followed by the previously
described dictator game (=treatment two). Table 3 gives an overview of our experimental design.
Both mandatory and voluntary acts were based on cheap talk framing.
The voluntary framing states: << 1/ You have the opportunity to get involved in a pro
environmental program one hour per week during a month. Do you wish to engage? => Yes
or No. 2/ On a 1 to 9 scale, select the satisfaction level that best describes yours after that
decision>>
The mandatory framing states: << 1/ Your University decides to settle a mandatory pro
environmental program in which you have to get involved one hour per week during a
month. 2/ On a 1 to 9 scale, select the satisfaction level that best describes yours after that
decision>>.
The satisfaction scale’s records aimed mostly at making sure that subjects put some attention on the
imagined act. Since both conditions (mandatory and voluntary) are based on cheap talk, it should
theoretically not make any difference in participants’ willingness to donate. Nevertheless, we believe
that imagining committing to a virtuous act is sufficient to induce a licensing effect. Beside,
everything was done to avoid attracting the attention of subjects regarding questionnaire variations
(e.g., identical envelopes, similar questionnaire size, and identical questionnaires on a given row).
Third, participants were given one minute and thirty seconds to fill in the questionnaires
anonymously. After the time elapsed, sheets were collected and the winning number was
announced. The amount corresponding to the winner’s decision was put inside an empty envelope
and given to the winner by the professor at the end of the lecture.
Table 3. Experimental Design
Control
Treatment 1
Mandatory condition
A pro environmental deed has to
be done
Treatment 2
Voluntary condition
A pro environmental deed is
proposed
(1=Accept; 2=Refuse)
Dictator Game. (Measuring the Willingness to Donate)
Part of the potential earnings to be given in favor of a pro environmental project
9
4. Results
A total of 185 Master students participated in this study, including 123 subjects from business-
related majors (Mean age = 22.70, SEM
5
= 0.20) and 62 students from environmental-related majors
(Mean age = 20.77, SEM
3
= 0.11). All subjects were unfamiliar with experimental economics. Gender
characteristics proved to be well balanced across treatment groups. Below, we summarize our two
main results (figures are presented in table 4).
R1: Intrinsically motivated individuals donated significantly less than non-intrinsically motivated
individuals after a mandatory virtuous act. Difference is significant at the 5% level, t(61)= 2,569,
p=0,012. This supports our first hypothesis H1.
R2: Intrinsically motivated individuals donated significantly more than non-intrinsically motivated
individuals after a voluntary virtuous act. Difference is significant at the 5% level, t(30)= 2,214,
p=0,034. This supports our second hypothesis H2.
Our first main result indicates that licensing effect happened in the mandatory scenario with
intrinsically motivated individuals, whereas our second main result points out that licensing effect
happened in the voluntary scenario with non-intrinsically motivated individuals. In sum, intrinsically
Figure 1. Average willingness to donate to the environmental union under different conditions
5
Standard Error of the Mean
Control Mandatory good deed Voluntary good deed
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
16
12,22
13,55
8
9,8
7,04
11,29
Business related ma-
jors
Environmental related
majors
10
and non-intrinsically motivated individuals reacted adversely to the two policy designs. Figure 1
illustrates our findings.
Table 4 summarizes the results. The columns in table 3 correspond to different outcomes (willingness
to donate), each of which is recorded separately among intrinsically vs. non-intrinsically motivated
individuals. The top row reports means for the control group (neither voluntary nor mandatory
virtuous act in a first stage). The next two rows explore means for the treatment one (voluntary
virtuous act first), separating results in two lines: those who refused to commit to the virtuous act
and then, those who accepted to commit. The final row reports means for treatment two
(mandatory virtuous act first).
Table 4. Average willingness to donate to the environmental union and SEM
3
under different
conditions
Environmental related majors
(Intrinsically motivated individuals)
Business related majors
(Non-intrinsically motivated individuals)
Control group
No virtuous act
9,8 (2,354)
12,22 (1,657)
Voluntary condition (Treatment one)
No virtuous act
(refuse)
12,13 (4,23)
10,523 (2,54)
Voluntary
virtuous act
6
10,77 (2,181)
5,21 (1, 448)
7
Mandatory condition (Treatment two)
Mandatory
virtuous act
7,04 (1,884)
13,55 (1,518)
5. Policy implications and conclusion
First of all, our contribution is an additional stone supporting the fact that actions must not be
considered in isolation but as influencing each other. The influence is not only related to the nature
of the action (good versus bad deed) but also the way it is generated. We have shown that the
licensing effect is influenced by the way the ‘virtuous’ act is generated according to whether
individuals are intrinsically motivated or not.
6
Participation rate in the voluntary condition was slightly higher for intrinsically motivated individuals than for non-
intrinsically motivated individuals (62% vs. 50%).
7
We checked for a revenue effect, but low income ratio in this condition is equivalent to the whole sample (low
income= 42% and high income= 58% vs 46% and 54% for the whole sample)
11
The study aimed to experimentally test for conditions that are assumed to influence the licensing
effect. We conclude that the presence of intrinsic motivation and the way the virtuous act is
generated (voluntarily or mandatorily) are two important conditions explaining the occurrence of
licensing effect. We found that intrinsically motivated individuals donated significantly less than non-
intrinsically motivated individuals after a mandatory virtuous act. Conversely, intrinsically motivated
individuals donated significantly more than non-intrinsically motivated individuals after a voluntary
virtuous act. The licensing effect arises when combining intrinsically (non- intrinsically) motivated
individuals and mandatory (voluntary) conditions. Overall, intrinsically and non-intrinsically
motivated individuals reacted adversely to the treatment variables. Mandatory condition does not
work well with intrinsically motivated individuals but it does work well with non-intrinsically
motivated individuals. The voluntary scenario performs better with intrinsically motivated individuals
but licenses non-intrinsically motivated individuals.
The main implication of these findings suggests the need to target policies according to population
subgroups and avoid ‘one-size-fits-all’ policies in the environmental realm. Indeed, it seems
necessary to characterize and elicit whether subgroups of the population are intrinsically motivated
to tailor policy instruments accordingly. Further research may not only suggest methods to avoid
licensing effect, but also hold the promise of helping to design settings that foster tailored policies.
Also, this challenging point may raise equity issues where subgroups would face different
instruments.
References
Bénabou, R., Tirole, J. (2006), “Incentives and Prosocial Behavior”, The American Economic Review,
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Bowles, S. (2008), Policies designed for self-interested citizens may undermine ‘the moral
sentiments’: evidence from economic experiments, Science, 320 (5883), 1605-1609.
Burns, Z., Chiu, A., Wu, G. (2010), “Overweighting of Small Probabilities”, Wiley Encyclopedia of
Operations Research and Management Science, 19pp.
Chang, J., Lai, C. (1999), “Local environmental control and institutional crowding out”, European
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Chen, R., Jia, J. (2005), “Consumer Choices Under Small Probabilities: Overweighting or
Underweighting?”, Marketing Letters, 16(1), 5-18.
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Chiou, W.-B., Wan, C.-S., Wu, W.-H. and Lee, K.-T. (2011), “A randomized experiment to examine
unintended consequences of dietary supplement use among daily smokers: taking supplements
reduces self-regulation of smoking”, Addiction, 106(12), 22212228.
Frank, R.H., (2003), “What Price the Moral High Ground? Ethical Dilemmas in Competitive
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Jordan, Mullen, and Murnighan (2011), “Striving for the moral self: the effects of recalling past moral
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Monbiot, G. (2009) We cannot change the world by changing our buying habits, George Monbiot’s
Blog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/nov/06/green-consumerism.
Nyborg, K. (1999), “Informational Aspect of Environment Policy Deserves More Attention: Comment
on the Paper by Frey”, Journal of Consumer Policy, 22 (4), 419-427.
Sachdeva, S., Iliev, R., Medin, D. (2009), Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The paradox of Moral
Self-Regulation”, Psychological Science, 20 (4), 523-528.
Gneezy, U., Rustichini, A. (2000), “Pay enough or don’t pay at all”, The Quarterly Journal of
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« Do Good Deeds Make Bad People?»
Contact :
Stéphane MUSSARD : mussard@lameta.univ-montp1.fr
... However, spillover effects can go in the opposite direction. For instance, Clot et al. [37] show through a laboratory experiment that when participants perform PEBs in a previous stage, their willingness to donate to an environmental charity reduces. Or, Tiefenbeck et al. [38] demonstrate that households who reduce their water consumption simultaneously increase their electricity usage. ...
... Second, our aim is to make an experimental contribution based on our approach of using virtual exposure to nature, which extends previous contributions by measuring consequential behavior fully [18,31,33]. Linked to these both motivations, our purpose is to test the existence of spillover effects on subsequent PEB [35] and to assess consistency or inconsistency between direct and indirect PEB [37,42]. Third, with regards to ecological awareness, our aim is to relate the potential impact on PEB to individuals' environmental beliefs [41]. ...
... This hypothesis complements Hypothesis 1 by analyzing the interplay between both PEBs by investigating whether the impact on eco-donations of exposure to nature affects eco-actions. This allows us to test for consistent or inconsistent behavior [37,42], i.e., if people reinforce or not their pro-environmental actions for the two types of PEBs at stake. ...
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We analyze whether exposure to a nature documentary increases pro-environmental behavior (PEB). We test this causal link in an experiment where subjects viewed a video featuring either an urban (control treatment) or a nature setting (nature treatment). We consider two types of behavior: a monetary donation to an environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) that we call an eco-donation, and subsequently, a non-monetary decision (i.e., recycle or not recycle headphone protectors) that we call an eco-action. We find that virtual exposure to nature boosts both eco-donation and eco-action. Interestingly, the increase in PEB only occurs for individuals who express low environmental values. We did not find any negative or positive spillover effects on the eco-action. We finally provide robustness checks and discuss policy implications.
... In light of this theory, an internal balancing mechanism between good and bad deeds prevents individuals from reaching their long-term goals. Moral licensing has been applied to health (smokers taking vitamin pills smoke more cigarettes; Chiou et al., 2011) or even driving habits (Prius hybrid drivers are more likely to break crosswalk laws, get into accidents, and receive fines; Woodyard, 2009) but little is known about moral licensing implications within the environmental domain in real life settings (Clot et al., 2016). This present paper proposes to investigate the potential for "green licensing." 1 A better understanding of how individual behavior interferes with environmental long-term goals and to what extent moral licensing may harm environmental policies seems crucial in helping to design effective policies: the goal is to reduce carbon footprints overall, and thus any negative spillovers must be "planned in." ...
... External sources of motivation, such as regulations or financial rewards may crowd out intrinsic motivation and further translate into negative spillovers. In contrast, when the source of motivation is internal, the PEB is linked to the individual's self-identity and crowds-in intrinsic motivation, and thus positive spillovers, are more likely to arise (Clot et al., 2016;Lacasse, 2016;Nilsson et al., 2017;Thøgersen & Crompton, 2009;Truelove et al., 2014). ...
... Firstly, the origin of the motivation is a key element. Earlier research found that external sources of motivation (often referred as regulations or financial rewards) are more likely to generate negative spillovers contrary to internal source of motivation (Clot et al., 2016;Lacasse, 2016;Nilsson et al., 2017;Thøgersen & Crompton, 2009;Truelove et al., 2014). Nudging, and more specifically priming, may not necessarily be associated with intrinsic motivation but may be assimilated to an external motivator, thus susceptible to generate negative spillovers, as we find in this work. ...
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It is a common assumption to believe that encouraging pro environmental behavior (PEB) in one domain would lead to increased PEB in other domains (best-case scenario) or just be restricted to the initial targeted domain (worst-case scenario). Evidence from a rapidly growing literature on moral licensing suggests that interventions targeting behavioral change could lead to an even worse scenario, with individuals starting to underperform in one domain, as a compensation for their good performance in other domains. We propose to study the dynamic of PEBs when individuals are exposed to a specific nudge (priming) via an original experiment designed to capture actual behavior. We found that priming could increase PEB, but does not thwart moral licensing. Primed individuals end up doing worse than non-primed individual under a moral licensing condition. A more comprehensive view of the mechanisms underlying behavioral change is essential to support sustainable policies.
... Despite evidence for positive spillover effects from adopting one kind of pro-environmental behavior to other environmental behaviors (Maki et al., 2019;Truelove et al., 2014), several studies indicate that adopting pro-environmental behavior can also have detrimental effects on subsequent environmental behaviors and attitudes (Brügger and Höchli, 2019;Clot et al., 2016;Garvey and Bolton, 2017;Geng et al., 2016;Gholamzadehmir et al., 2019;Lalot et al., 2018;Longoni et al., 2014;Meijers et al., 2019;Noblet and McCoy, 2018;Schumann and Klein, 2015;Thøgersen and Ö lander, 2003;Tiefenbeck et al., 2013) or on nonenvironmental moral behavior (Engel et al., 2020;Mazar and Zhong, 2010;Susewind and Hoelzl, 2014; for effects from non-environmental moral behavior to environmental behavior, see Meijers et al., 2015;Sachdeva et al., 2009). For example, Tiefenbeck and colleagues (2013) observed in a controlled field experiment that a water conservation campaign was effective in reducing the water use of households but simultaneously lead to an increase in electricity consumption compared to a control group. ...
... For example, Tiefenbeck and colleagues (2013) observed in a controlled field experiment that a water conservation campaign was effective in reducing the water use of households but simultaneously lead to an increase in electricity consumption compared to a control group. In contrast to this seminal field study, many of the available studies on moral licensing in the environmental domain elicited hypothetical or imagined behavior within controlled settings to obtain more robust evidence on causal mechanism than can usually be obtained in field studies (Clot et al., 2016;Meijers et al., 2019;Schumann and Klein, 2015;Susewind and Hoelzl, 2014). For example, simulating the experience of purchasing products in a green (vs. ...
... Several studies indicate that the emergence of moral licensing effects is contingent on boundary conditions (for overviews, see Blanken et al., 2015;Mullen and Monin, 2016). Most importantly, research on moral licensing in general as well as specifically in the environmental domain indicates that high personal importance of the initial behavior, strong commitment to the values associated with the behavior, as well as situational factors that facilitate the perception of behavior as intrinsically motivated and identity-relevant facilitate positive spillover from one behavior to other behaviors rather than licensing effects (Brügger and Höchli, 2019;Clot et al., 2016;Conway and Peetz, 2012;Geng et al., 2016;Gneezy et al., 2012;Lalot et al., 2018;Meijers et al., 2019;Noblet and McCoy, 2018;Susewind and Hoelzl, 2014;Thøgersen and Ö lander, 2003;van der Werff et al., 2014). However, it has also been found that being reminded of past pro-environmental behavior decreased the likelihood of seeking information on the own carbon footprint among individuals with high rather than low internally motivated environmental attitudes (Gholamzadehmir et al., 2019). ...
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This research provides evidence for moral-licensing effects in climate-related behavior. We recruited individuals who had not travelled by airplane for private reasons during the past two years (Study 1, n = 854) or had invested in an energetic refurbishment of their homes (Study 2, n = 596) and investigated feelings and intentions toward two different problematic behaviors, namely meat consumption (Study 1) and air travel (Study 2). In a paradigm where the order of topics in the survey was varied systematically, being reminded of past climate-friendly behavior decreased the discomfort about ongoing problematic climate-related behavior in another domain (Study 1) and reduced the motivation to change the latter behavior or to mitigate its consequences (Study 2). Strength and direction of the effect were moderated by factors such as concern about climate protection, personal relevance of the problematic behavior, as well as time since and pride about the climate-friendly behavior.
... However, some other papers do not find a positive relationship between positive mood and generosity [12]. Tan and Forgas [24] even conclude that happiness drives people to selfishness and argue that positive moods recruit more internally focused processing, leading to moral compensation behavior [25]. ...
... First, we use an incentivized modified dictator game in order to elicit PEB. In this modified dictator game, the recipient is an ENGO and any donation above zero implies an intrinsic valuation of giving which we interpret as an adequate proxy for pro-environmental preferences [25]. Second, we elicit the ecological awareness of our subjects and measure it via the NEP scale in order to link subjects' stated environmental values to their real PEB. ...
... We design and carry out a laboratory experiment to analyze observed behaviors through a set of treatments in which emotions are induced in the subjects [12,42] and in which subjects have the option to make a monetary donation to an environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) [45]. We consider a monetary donation to an ENGO as an indirect PEB [6] as an adequate proxy for revealing pro-environmental preferences [25]. ...
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Communication policies employed by policymakers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often appeal to the emotions to persuade people to adopt virtuous behavior. The aim of this paper is to study the impact of induced emotions on pro-environmental behavior (PEB). We design a three-stage laboratory experiment. In the first stage, we determine the level of the subjects’ environmental awareness. In the second stage, subjects read scripts that place them in realistic hypothetical scenarios designed to induce specific emotions. We implement a 2 x 2 in-between design by varying both the valence and social dimension of the four emotional states induced: happiness, sadness, pride and shame. In the third stage, subjects play a modified dictator game in which the recipient is an environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO). We show that the emotional states of subjects can influence PEB. In particular, negative emotions significantly reduce the average individual amount of donations made to ENGOs. We also find that the precise impact of the emotional states is more complex and appears to be dependent on individuals’ characteristics and awareness for environmental issues. For instance, in positive emotional states, men donate significantly less than women. In addition, a high level of environmental awareness increases donations in subjects experiencing shame and decreases their likelihood to donate when feeling pride. Also, we observe behavioral consistency for negative emotions and rather compensatory behavior for positive emotions.
... Green behavior is often seen as ethical behavior; therefore, a number of scholars have researched and confirmed the existence of the licensing effect in the field of green behavior and green consumption. One study found that when people exhibit green behavior, they are significantly less likely to donate to environmental charities afterward [24]. Longoni and Gollwitzer et al. conducted an online experiment in which they asked one group of subjects to simulate an online green consumption scenario and another control group to simulate non-green consumption and then asked the subjects to perform a paper-cutting test to test people's green behavior by counting the subjects' sorting and disposal of leftover paper-cutting waste. ...
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Current research on consumer behavior of green advertising mostly focuses on advertising attitude or consumer behavior, while few studies have extended the topic to explore the consumers’ behavior after green consumption. The “Licensing effect”, which is a paradoxical side effect of green advertising, has been verified to exist in the consumption context in many countries. This paradoxical effect between cognition and behavior refers to the circumstance that consumers show non-green behavior after green consumption, which is contrary to the original intention of green advertising. However, at present, few scholars have verified and deeply explored that effect in the context of China. This study explores the “licensing effect” of green advertising through two factors: environmental protection cognition and advertising appeal. Through a 2 × 3 experiment, we find that: 1. The licensing effect is applicable in the Chinese consumption context; 2. The licensing effect only exists in individuals with low environmental protection cognition; 3. The appeal mode of green advertising turns out to be an effective moderator, and rational appeal can effectively prevent the licensing effect. This research expands the research scope of green advertising and provides a new vision for the study of consumer behavior in green advertising. In addition, the moderation role of advertising appeal verified by our study has guiding significance for green advertising practice.
... In the past, many studies on the negative effect of behaviour spillover had a common feature, that was, the initial prosocial behaviour implemented by individuals was costless, and then the decline of subsequent prosocial behaviour was observed. For example, participants were asked to imagine engaging in community service [59], imagine purchasing green food [60], imagine engaging in the pro-environmental program [61], and writing positive stories about themselves [62]. Costless behaviour will not improve a person's prosocial identity, thus it will lead to a moral licensing effect, while costly behaviour changes a person's prosocial identity and leads to subsequent behaviour in line with the prosocial identity [45]. ...
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