Why, once it starts, is bad behavior difficult to curtail? What makes deceit such a hard habit to break?
New research from three faculty members at the Kellogg School sheds light on this phenomenon and the psychological processes that enable it. Maryam Kouchaki and Nour Kteily, both assistant professors of management and organizations, and Adam Waytz, an associate professor in the same department, found that people who cheat view themselves as having less capacity for certain uniquely human traits, such as self-control and planning. This dehumanized self-image, the researchers show, increases the likelihood that they will continue their bad behavior in the future.
“Because morally questionable behavior is uncomfortable, people don’t want to take responsibility for it,” Kouchaki explains. As a result, people subtly adjust their self-image and begin to view themselves as possessing fewer of the human traits that would curb that bad behavior. They, themselves, aren’t to blame, this line of thinking goes—they’re just not capable of behaving any better.