Stretching the Moral Gray Zone: Positive Affect, Moral Disengagement, and Dishonesty

Lynne C. Vincent, Kyle J. Emich, Jack A. Goncalo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


We propose that positive affect promotes dishonest behavior by providing the cognitive flexibility necessary to reframe and to rationalize dishonest acts. This hypothesis was tested in two studies. The results of Study 1 showed that individuals experiencing positive affect morally disengage to a greater extent than do individuals experiencing neutral affect. Study 2 built on this finding by demonstrating that the ability to morally disengage can lead individuals who experience positive affect to behave dishonestly. Specifically, the results of Study 2 showed that people experiencing positive affect are more likely to steal than individuals experiencing neutral affect, particularly when self-awareness is low. Furthermore, moral disengagement fully mediated this effect. Taken together, the results suggest that positive affect paves the way for the commission of dishonest acts by altering how individuals evaluate the moral implications of their own behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-599
Number of pages5
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • dishonesty
  • emotions
  • moral disengagement
  • morality
  • positive affect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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