What reasoning processes do consumers use to support public figures that act immorally? Existing research emphasizes moral rationalization, whereby people reconstrue improper behavior in order to maintain support for a transgressor. In contrast, the current research proposes that people also engage in moral decoupling, a previously unstudied moral reasoning process by which judgments of performance are separated from judgments of morality. By separating these judgments, moral decoupling allows consumers to support a transgressor’s performance while simultaneously condemning their transgressions. Five laboratory studies demonstrate that moral decoupling exists and is psychologically distinct from moral rationalization. Moreover, because moral decoupling does not involve condoning immoral behavior, it is easier to justify than moral rationalization. Finally, a field study suggests that in discussions involving public figures’ transgressions, moral decoupling may be more predictive of consumer support (and opposition) than moral rationalization.
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