Memories of our unethical actions vanish before
Despite the fact that in movies and television series the evil characters tend to be unquestionably evil and selfish, it has long been known that even human beings who have committed real atrocities are able to preserve a sense of ethics that is deeply rooted in your day to day and believe that what they do is not wrong. In a sense, it seems as if the self-image and the fact of breaking or not rules were relatively independent of each other, so that even the people who tend to betray their principles the most are able to keep a kind view of themselves .
How can this happen? Researchers like Dan Ariely argue that we humans have an incredible ability to deceive ourselves or, rather, to let go to our "rational" side only the part of information that interests. Thus, we would not have to dedicate any effort to construct a biased story about why we have acted unethically: this story would be constructed automatically, from a totally interested data filtering and from which our self-image will come to a standstill.
Recently, research by psychologists Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino (from Northwestern University and Hardvard University, respectively) has provided evidence of a similar filtering that affects memory. According to your results, it is harder for us to remember unethical actions than other types of events . That is, we experience what they call "unethical amnesia," or amnesia of the immoral, and that it is possible that this phenomenon exists for our sake.
Suspiciously forgetful: ethics are blurred
The rationale for unethical amnesia is based, hypothetically, on the state of discomfort that the fact of knowing that has acted unethically and violating the vital principles that are pursued.
The appearance of this uncomfortable tension, which would generate a kind of dissonance between "what should be" and "what is" would activate some defense and coping mechanisms made so that the discomfort disappears, and one of them would be the tendency to show us Especially forgetful of events that compromise our sense of ethics.
In one of the tests conducted by Kouchaki and Gino, 279 students had to perform a simple exercise in which they had to try to guess the number that came out by throwing a six-sided die over twenty runs. Each time they guessed the number, they would receive a small amount of money as a reward.
Some of these participants were forced to say in advance the number they thought should come out, while others could simply tell if their foresight had been fulfilled or not, so they had it very easy to lie and take a sum of money that according to the rules set did not correspond.
After going through this small test, all participants had to complete a questionnaire that included questions about feelings of moral dissonance and self-concept designed to be registered to what extent they felt good about themselves, if they felt somewhat embarrassed, etc. . As planned, usually people who belonged to the group of participants who had been given the opportunity to lie they tended to reflect a greater sense of discomfort in their questionnaire responses .
And this is where the oblivion of unethical actions appears. Two days after the die test and the completion of the questionnaire were completed, the people from the group of participants who had been allowed to cheat they showed more difficulties when it came to remembering the details of the experiment .
His memories of the task of throwing the dice were less intense, less clear and with fewer elements than those of the rest of the volunteers. Possibly, something in the brains of these people had been acting to get rid relatively quickly of information about what happened.
Returning to the initial situation
In addition to obtaining evidence on this curious mechanism of strategic forgetting of uncomfortable information, the two researchers also reached another conclusion: the people in the group that had been allowed to cheat again felt good about themselves very quickly .
In fact, two days after having played with the dice his scores on self-concept questionnaire and moral dissonance were not different from the rest of the participants.
Is the amnesia of the immoral something useful?
Given that in our day to day it is relatively easy for us to break several moral rules, however small, it may be that unethical amnesia keeps us safe from anxiety crises caused by the fact that we are constantly finding out that we are not able to meet certain ideal objectives. In this sense, the fact of making more difficult the evocation of negative memories about the ethics of oneself can be a useful and adaptive mechanism .
However, the existence of this phenomenon would entail certain inconveniences, taking into account that it can lead us to have very few reasons to act according to our ethical scale and to skip all the rules opportunistically.
Amnesia towards what is to come
In fact, in another part of the previous investigation, Kouchaki and Gino made the test of throwing the dice followed by one in which the participants had to solve some puzzles with words, earning money with every success. Participants belonging to the group who had been allowed to cheat in the die game were significantly more likely to cheat also in this second test.
This could be a sign that the amnesia of the immoral will not only have consequences for what has just happened, but that could open a window of opportunity for us to act again in an honest way .
There may be certain mental mechanisms that help us to keep a good opinion of ourselves, but they could also make it easier for us to enter a spiral of transgression of ethics.