And people felt they were less likely than others to engage in immoral behaviors, such as stealing a $20 tip left for a waiter—but neither more nor less likely to engage in moral behaviors such as returning a lost wallet.
When it comes to ethical behaviors, people judge themselves based on their own positive intentions, but they judge others based on their actions, the researchers write. And when it comes to unethical behaviors, people justify their own actions but are less understanding of others’.
The findings could benefit people writing policies that try to encourage particular behaviors. Take, for example, a company that wants to initiate policies that promote ethical practices, such as avoiding gender bias in job applications. If people believe they are unlikely to engage in unethical behaviors, saying these policies are aimed at preventing unethical behavior might be ineffective “since in that case people might think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t apply to me!’” says Klein. “So the better way to frame these policies may be as ones aiming to promote ethical—rather than discourage unethical—behavior.”