Money, moral transgressions, and blame

Wenwen Xie, Boya Yu, Xinyue Zhou, Constantine Sedikides, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Two experiments tested participants' attributions for others' immoral behaviors when conducted for more versus less money. We hypothesized and found that observers would blame wrongdoers more when seeing a transgression enacted for little rather than a lot of money, and that this would be evident in observers' hand-washing behavior. Experiment 1 used a cognitive dissonance paradigm. Participants (N = 160) observed a confederate lie in exchange for either a relatively large or a small monetary payment. Participants blamed the liar more in the small (versus large) money condition. Participants (N = 184) in Experiment 2 saw images of someone knocking over another to obtain a small, medium, or large monetary sum. In the small (versus large) money condition, participants blamed the perpetrator (money) more. Hence, participants assigned less blame to moral wrong-doers, if the latter enacted their deed to obtain relatively large sums of money. Small amounts of money accentuate the immorality of others' transgressions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-306
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Attribution
  • Blame
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Contagion
  • Money
  • Morality

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