“Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty Memories of past dishonesty is distressing, so the brain shuts them down
CREDIT: TELEGRAPH Henry Bodkin 16 MAY 2016 • 8:20PM
People are prone to repeat dishonest acts because the human subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of unethical behavior, scientists have found.
Fiddling expenses, cheating the taxman and even extramarital affairs are all less likely to be remembered than virtuous acts because of the phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”, according to researchers at Harvard and Northwestern Universities.
Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca GinoPublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study explains how the brain actively adopts strategies to avoid remembering instances of bad behavior in order to avoid psychological distress.
These include “re-coding” previous actions by subconsciously dehumanising the victims of dishonesty.
Additionally, many of the participants in the study were found to be operating a “double-distancing” mechanism, whereby they judged other people’s transgressions more harshly than their own, allowing them to view themselves in a more virtuous light.
Subjects were randomly tasked with writing about either an unethical or an ethical past experience.Their answers were then assessed against characteristics of memory such as clarity of detail and how well the subject remembered their feelings at the time of the act.
The results showed that individuals’ recall of their own past unethical acts were less vivid than memories of their ethical acts.
Participants were also asked to take part in a coin-tossing game where they were able to lie in order to win more money.
Their subsequent recall of the game was far less accurate than that of the dinner they enjoyed together later that day.
This unethical amnesia means people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time, wrote lead authors Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino.
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