Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 193–216 | Cite as

The impact of moral theories on cheating

Studies of emotion attribution and schema activation
  • Richard A. Dienstbier
  • Lynn R. Kahle
  • Keith A. Willis
  • Gilbert B. Tunnell


This research series began as a test of an emotion-attribution approach to moral behavior. However, in the early studies, college students who read about morality were subsequently more likely to cheat on a vocabulary test than were control subjects who read materials irrelevant to morality. We hypothesized that resentment toward the test constructors interacted with the moral schemas activated by the reading task. To reduce resentment, in Study III the vocabulary test was presented as the experimenter's doctoral research. As predicted, compared to controls, those subjects who read about morality cheated less. Study IV was a quasi-experiment that confirmed the hypothesized resentment differences between Study III and the earlier studies. In Study V, while two groups read about morality, one group read an internal emotion-attribution passage and the other read an external version; less cheating was observed in the internal condition than in the external or control conditions. The results indicate that even when moral schemas are elicited under conditions favoring moral behavior, those schemas will lead to reduced cheating most effectively under conditions in which subjects attribute their emotional arousal to their own behavior rather than to external causes. Issues of moral schema activation and emotion-attribution in moral behavior are discussed.


Control Subject College Student Social Psychology Internal Condition Emotional Arousal 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Dienstbier
    • 1
  • Lynn R. Kahle
    • 1
  • Keith A. Willis
    • 1
  • Gilbert B. Tunnell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

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