"Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
Psychological Science
Publication Type
Journal Article

Why do people judge hypocrites, who condemn immoral behaviors that they in fact engage in, so negatively? We propose that hypocrites are disliked because their condemnation sends a false signal about their personal conduct, deceptively suggesting that they behave morally. We show that verbal condemnation signals moral goodness (Study 1) and does so even more convincingly than directly stating that one behaves morally (Study 2). We then demonstrate that people judge hypocrites negatively—even more negatively than people who directly make false statements about their morality (Study 3). Finally, we show that “honest” hypocrites—who avoid false signaling by admitting to committing the condemned transgression—are not perceived negatively even though their actions contradict their stated values (Study 4). Critically, the same is not true of hypocrites who engage in false signaling but admit to unrelated transgressions (Study 5). Together, our results support a false-signaling theory of hypocrisy.

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