European Journal of Law and Economics

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 491–513 | Cite as

Do good deeds make bad people?



According to the so-called ‘self-licensing effect’, committing to a virtuous act in a preceding choice may lead to behave less virtuously in the succeeding decision. Consequently, well-intentioned policies can lead to overall counter-productive effects by licensing people to behave badly in related behaviors. On the other side, motivational crowding theory argues that constraining people to adopt a desirable behavior can backfire. We use of a classroom experiment to test whether a regulatory framework to incentivize individuals to adopt pro-environmental behavior generate similar spillovers in terms of licensing effect than a non-regulatory framework. We show that the way the good deed is caused doesn’t seem to influence the licensing effect. Nevertheless, we found that business- and environmental-orientated majors react adversely to the regulatory framework. We show that environmental-orientated students exhibit higher intrinsically motivations than business-orientated ones. Accordingly, we suggest that the licensing effect is more likely to arise when the preceding ‘virtuous’ act is freely chosen (respectively regulatory caused) for non-intrinsically (respectively intrinsically) motivated individuals.


Environment Regulation Self-licensing Voluntary approaches 

JEL Classification

Q50 D03 D04 K32 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LAMETA, UMR 1135ENSAMMontpellier Cedex 1France
  2. 2.LAMETA, UMR 1135, ENSAMBurgundy School of Business, LESSACMontpellierFrance
  3. 3.LAMETA, UMR 1135INRAMontpellierFrance

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