NPR reports on a new book, Out of Character, by psychologists David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo, which examines research into human hypocrisy:
DeSteno cites one experiment in which subjects where told to flip a coin in order to choose between a simple, fun task and a boring, hour-long task. They were also told that the next participant would have to do the task that wasn’t chosen, and then they were left alone to their own devices.
“These were experiments centered on hypocrisy,” DeSteno says. “If you do this, what people will typically do when we leave them alone is 90 percent of them will not flip the coin.”
That is, they’d cheat the system and pick the preferred task for themselves. Later, when asked if they had acted fairly, the subjects responded that they had.
Then, those same subjects were asked to watch another participant — really, a fake participant planted by the researchers — do the same thing. They observed that person skip the coin toss and choose the easy task, just as they had done. Only this time, they were quick to condemn the planted participant.