Social Moral Licensing

  • Wassili LasarovEmail author
  • Stefan Hoffmann
Original Paper


Moral licensing theory posits that individuals who initially behave morally may later display behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic. While previous literature mainly focused on individual moral licensing, the influences from the social environment have barely been investigated. To address this issue, the present paper develops a conceptual framework of social moral licensing and outlines two main avenues for future research via six propositions. The first avenue entitled “the conspicuousness of moral licensing” considers moral licensing that comes into play when people are observed by others. The second avenue entitled “the relativity of moral licensing” focusses on social comparisons between individuals, their ingroups and outgroups. Specific and testable social moral licensing effects are derived in both avenues. By doing so, this paper outlines promising directions for future studies in this new research stream.


Moral licensing Social influences Social moral licensing 



We would like to express our sincere thanks to the editor as well the two anonymous reviewers who gave us extremely helpful comments and helped us to substantially improve this manuscript.


This research has not been funded by a third party.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marketing, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social SciencesChristian-Albrechts-Universität zu KielKielGermany

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