Moral Licensing: The Effects of Religious Priming on Moral Behavior


The present study examines the role of religious priming in moral licensing behavior. We included 582 undergraduate students from a private, religious university. There were four conditions: a control condition, a moral behavior neutral reading condition, a moral behavior punishment condition, and a moral behavior love condition. Moral behavior was manipulated by having some of the participants write about a personal moral behavior they recently did, whereas those in the control condition wrote about what a typical day looks like for them. Additionally, participants in the religious punishment prime condition viewed a Bible passage describing the wrath of God, whereas participants in the religious love condition viewed a Bible passage about God’s love and kindness. Participants in the neutral reading condition viewed a passage about making bread. Participants completed a money allocation task as a measure of moral behavior. Writing about a previous moral behavior had a significant effect on the money allocation task; however, the direction was opposite of predictions, indicating moral consistency rather than moral licensing. Participants in the control condition donated significantly less money than participants in the moral behavior neutral reading and moral behavior punishment conditions. More research is needed to study potential moderating effects on moral behavior. There is a need for more research on potential contributing factors to moral licensing as opposed to moral consistency effects.