Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Morning Morality: Why afternoons turn us into lazy creeps.

Morning Morality: Why afternoons turn us into lazy creeps.

Morning morality: What's your take?Afternoons. After lunch. Sleepy sometimes, maybe?

Your moral compass takes a nap, too.

Yes, you may be efficient, virtuous, and nice all morning. But by the time you start rummaging for that mid-afternoon Snickers pick-me-up, you’ve become a lying slug. Just because it’s afternoon.

So say psychologists from Harvard University and University of Utah. In a newly published research study, they claim to have identified a phenomenon they call “The Morning Morality Effect.”

The Morning Morality Effect: Why Jerks Sleep Late.

In the morning, these researchers say, you’re rested, clear-headed and ready to make sound decisions. You understand the importance of a good breakfast. You know not to mix stripes with plaids. You value punctuality, responsibility, and you’re cheerful. Relatively speaking. But in the afternoon, you grab a Big Mac and cheat on your taxes.

“We propose that the normal, unremarkable experiences associated with everyday living can deplete one’s capacity to resist moral temptations,” write the authors in their newly published study. “This morning morality effect was mediated by decreases in moral awareness and self-control in the afternoon.” To put it another way: The act of staying awake grinds your moral defenses into a fine powder.

An “effect”? Or an excuse?

These researchers tested their theory by rounding up 62 college student volunteers, sorting them into morning and afternoon groups, then subjecting them to the sort of morality test only a researcher could love.

Watch and see what we mean: Each study participant sat in front of a console with two buttons and was shown 100 squares cut into two triangles. Printed on every triangle: Small dots in a random pattern. The volunteers were instructed to hit the right console button if they saw more dots on the right triangle than they did on the left, and to hit the left console button if they saw more dots on the left triangle than they did on the right.

The catch

These college student volunteers were paid for their time. But they were told they’d be paid more when they hit the right console button. They were told they’d be paid more even if they hit the right console button when they saw more dots on the left triangle. In other words, they were told they’d be paid more…if they lied.

According to the morality effect, Pinocchio wasn't a morning person, either.

Not a morning person: Pinocchio.

Just to stack the deck a bit, the researchers made sure that 30 of those 100 squares had far more dots on the left than on the right. So many more, in fact, that no rational human being could justify punching the right button for any reason but to cheat.

No surprise, these undergrads cheated. They cheated morning, noon, and night. But afternoon participants cheated at rates almost double those of the morning crew.

And if that’s not enough…

In another test, volunteers were asked to choose between The New York Review of Books and People magazine. Books won out with the morning crew: Only 40% chose People. As for the afternoon’s lab rats? Sixty percent went for the trashier read.

The moral of the story? The authors of the study say we should see that mornings support virtue, while afternoons encourage vice, and organize our days accordingly. “The morning morality effect has notable implications,” the authors write. “Morally relevant tasks should be deliberately ordered throughout the day.”

Do afternoons turn you into a lying weasel? Or are those morning folks just book review-reading dweebs?

What's your take? Cast your vote here.

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