People act morally if somebody is watching

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 08, 2011 10:30 hrs

Washington, March 8 (IANS) A new study says that most people would be quite comfortable pocketing an extra $20 note they receive in change, especially when the cashier is not looking.

'Omissions and commissions come up relatively frequently in everyday life, and we sometimes puzzle over them,' says psychologist Peter DeScioli of Brandeis University, the journal Psychological Science reports.

DeScioli co-authored the study with John Christner and Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania, according to a Brandeis statement.

The study suggests that people will pocket the extra money without much hesitation because they know other people will think worse of them if they do something bad than if they let something bad happen.

Psychologists have often thought that this is because the brain makes a mistake - it works through moral calculations differently when we think about a sin of omission (not giving the $20 bill back) versus a sin of commission (stealing a $20 bill).

But DeScioli and his colleagues suspected otherwise. They thought people were actually making a strategic decision about how to act based on how someone else might judge them.

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