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People who are dishonest are perceived as incompetent

New research from the American Psychological Association suggests that most of us view dishonest people as being less capable in life.

“Although arguments can be made that an individual’s moral behavior is, or should be, irrelevant to their overall competence, we found consistent support that immoral behavior reduced judgments of people’s competence,” said lead author Dr. Jennifer Stellar.

The research team developed various experiments focused on over 1,500 participants for the study. The individuals were presented with hypothetical characters who were portrayed as being immoral in scenarios such as shoplifting or receiving low morality ratings from co-workers.

The participants were instructed to rate their perception of each character’s overall competence or ability to complete a task. In one experiment, for example, the participants rated how good they thought the hypothetical individual was at his or her job.

In every phase of the study, individuals who had committed moral transgressions were consistently rated as being less capable of doing their jobs and were viewed as being generally incompetent.

The participants had been asked if morality was linked to competence in an early phase of the analysis.

“We found that most people rated immoral behavior in one’s private life as irrelevant to determining how good that person was at their job,” said Dr. Stellar. “Essentially, people said they didn’t think they would use moral information in that way, but when they were provided with it, they did.”

As the investigation proceeded, the experts found evidence that immoral characters were viewed as incompetent because they seemed to be lacking in social intelligence due to their dishonorable actions.

“Social intelligence is often conceived of as the ability to manage complex social situations,” said Stellar. “It includes characteristics such as taking the others’ perspectives, being adaptable, managing impressions of oneself and adhering to established social norms. A person who is socially intelligent would understand when and why a coworker is angry and effectively manage their coworker’s potentially destructive emotional response.”

The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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