In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Marjorie Cooper of Baylor University explains research examining why religious belief doesn’t always translate into ethical behavior.
Marjorie Cooper is a professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Her areas of interest are marketing and consumer behavior, and she is an academic associate of the prestigious Goldratt Institute in New Haven, Connecticut. She holds a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.
Dr. Marjorie Cooper – Ethics and Religious Belief
Many of the world’s religions present a set of moral and ethical norms that people should follow in their dealings with each other. Yet some people who confess high levels of religiosity also commit acts that are clearly unethical. Why is this?
My colleague, Chris Pullig, and I wondered if there was some other factor at work besides religiosity that affects ethical judgment. Maybe people who overturn their religious beliefs in favor of unethical judgment are more narcissistic than those who choose a more ethical path.
Narcissists tend to ignore the rules that govern the behavior of the rest of us. They are more willing to attain personal goals at the expense of others, and they are somewhat insensitive to what society expects from them.
We sampled undergraduate business students to determine their religiosity, their commitment to orthodox Christian beliefs, and their level of narcissism. We find three distinct groups. Skeptics are low in religiosity and largely reject Christian teachings. Nominals are socially and externally oriented in their religiosity and moderate in their adherence to Christian beliefs. Devouts are high in internal religious orientation and in their orthodox beliefs.
Overall, both Nominals and Devouts showed better ethical judgment than Skeptics. However, the more narcissistic the subjects, the worse their ethical judgment became. In fact, at higher levels of narcissism, the ethical judgment of Nominals and Devouts was no better than that of Skeptics.
It seems that people who score high in narcissism have a “me first” mentality that overrules more important considerations. As a result, we find that narcissism is more harmful in those who might be expected to show better ethical judgment.