Also known as ‘self-licensing’ or ‘moral licensing’, the licensing effect is evident when people allow themselves to do something bad (e.g. immoral) after doing something good (e.g. moral) first (Merritt et al., 2010). The effect of licencing has been studied for different behavioral outcomes, including donations, cooperation, racial discrimination, and cheating (Blanken et al., 2015). Well-publicized research asked participants to shop either in a green or a conventional online store. In one experiment, people who shopped in a green store shared less money in a dictator game (see game theory). Another experiment allowed participants to lie (about their performance on a task) and cheat (take more money out of an envelope than they actually earned) and showed more dishonesty among green shoppers (Mazar & Zhong, 2010).


Blanken, I., van de Ven, N., & Zeelenberg, M. (2015). A meta-analytic review of moral licensing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(4), 540-558.

Mazar, N., & Zhong, C. (2010). Do green products make up better people? Psychological Science, 21, 494-498.

Merritt, A., Effron, D. A., Monin, B. (2010). Moral self-licensing: When being good frees us to be bad. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/5, 344-357.