In an npr interview Dan Airley discusses his new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.
Ariely describes these experiments and the results in a new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone — Especially Ourselves. He talks with NPR's Robert Siegel about how society's troubles aren't always caused by the really bad apples; they're caused by the scores of slightly rotting apples who are cheating just a little bit.
"We want to view ourselves as honest, wonderful people and when we cheat ... as long as we cheat just a little bit, we can still view ourselves as good people, but once we start cheating too much ... we can't view ourselves as good people and therefore we stop. So this model of trying to balance the ability to view ourselves as good people on one hand and the ability to cheat on the other hand predicts that people will cheat a little bit and they will still feel good about themselves. ... That's what we see across many, many experiments."
"The moment something is one step removed from money ... people can cheat more and [still] feel good about themselves. It basically relieves people from the moral shackles....
... How can you rationalize your actions and still think of yourself as a good person? And if somebody has mistreated you, now you can probably rationalize something to a higher degree."
I've seen this mechanism of rationalization, that the moral shackles are needing to feel good aobut yourself and how easy it is to find a way to excuse yourself for a particualr action.