The pot calling the kettle black: Distancing response to ethical dissonance

Rachel Barkan, Shahar Ayal, Francesca Gino, Dan Ariely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Six studies demonstrate the "pot calling the kettle black" phenomenon whereby people are guilty of the very fault they identify in others. Recalling an undeniable ethical failure, people experience ethical dissonance between their moral values and their behavioral misconduct. Our findings indicate that to reduce ethical dissonance, individuals use a double-distancing mechanism. Using an overcompensating ethical code, they judge others more harshly and present themselves as more virtuous and ethical (Studies 1, 2, 3). We show this mechanism is exclusive for ethical dissonance and is not triggered by salience of ethicality (Study 4), general sense of personal failure, or ethically neutral cognitive dissonance (Study 5). Finally, it is characterized by some boundary conditions (Study 6). We discuss the theoretical contribution of this work to research on moral regulation and ethical behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-773
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2012


  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Ethical dissonance
  • Impression management
  • Moral judgment
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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