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The University of Southampton

Hypocrisy: What Counts?

Mark D. Alicke
Department of Psychology, Ohio University, USA

Hypocrisy is a multi-faceted concept that has been studied empirically by psychologists
and discussed logically by philosophers. We posed various behavioural scenarios to research participants and asked them to indicate whether the actor in the scenario behaved hypocritically. We assessed many of the components that have been considered to be necessary for hypocrisy (e.g., the intent to deceive, self-deception), factors that may or may not be distinguished from hypocrisy (e.g., weakness of will), and factors that may moderate hypocrisy (e.g., the degree of discrepancy between the attitude and behaviour, whether the attitude is stated publicly, and the nature and severity of the behavioural consequences). Our findings indicate that lay conceptions of hypocrisy are often at odds with philosophical speculation. We argue that a complete understanding of the criteria for hypocrisy requires consideration of how ordinary people construe the concept. In contrast to some concepts (e.g., physical causation), for which lay conceptions, while interesting, are largely irrelevant, hypocrisy is an essential component of social judgment. One could argue, therefore, that folk wisdom is the ultimate arbiter of what hypocrisy entails.

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