Publication details [#14094]

Stahl, Thomas and Naomi Ellemers. 2016. Ironic Effects of Moral Motivation: Why Working Toward a Moral Goal Reduces Subsequent Perspective Taking. Social Cognition 34 (2) : 133–148. 16 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Guilford Press


Individuals tend to value moral standards more than other types of standards (e.g., competence); the pursuit of moral goals is therefore perceived as more important in comparison with goals involving other types of norms. The authors thus argue that framing a goal in moral terms may increase engagement of the central executive. Two studies are conducted to test this hypothesis, and to investigate whether the pursuit of an initial moral vs. non-moral goal (1) leads to impairments in executive control, and (2) has consequences on subsequent perspective taking. The first study shows that individuals perform better on a Stroop task (Stroop 1935) when this is framed in terms of moral implications vs. implications for one's competence. The second study shows that working on a task having implications for one's morality (vs. competence) leads to subsequent impairments in executive control, in turn reducing the respondents' inclination to engage in perspective taking. The pursuit of a moral goal can thus, ironically, result in moral failures following impaired executive control.