The Behavioral and Mental Process of Moral Licensing

  • 周 思穎

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Although several studies in psychology and marketing had documented the moral licensing effect, understanding of its neural mechanism was still limited. This study aimed to explore its underlying process using the fMRI experiment. With the first-stage tasks randomly determining whether participants would donate to charities or NGOs, we’d like to examine how their subsequent choices were modulated in purchasing among hedonic, utilitarian, and double hedonic goods. Behaviorally, participants exhibited a significantly higher percentage in choosing hedonic goods after donation as compared to no donation, resembling the moral licensing phenomenon. For main fMRI analysis results: (1) in contrast to the existing findings that the value encoding was similar for hedonic and utilitarian goods, we found participants’ cerebral salience network more activated when they chose the hedonic goods as compared to utilitarian ones; (2) their salience network was more depressed after having completed donation relative to no donation; (3) only after donation but not after no donation, activations in insula and precuneus were lower for participants with a higher percentage shopping hedonic goods. In summary, we speculated that the donation-induced moral licensing effect rose from participants’ relatively depressed salience network activities after donation, resulting in a lower inhibition in consuming the hedonic goods.

Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMing-Hung Weng (Supervisor)

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