New research shows how subtle changes in language can lead to more ethical behavior.
Psychologists have long known that ordinary people often manage to feel good about themselves even while doing bad things, and that the words we use can foster this kind of moral disengagement. Euphemisms like "creative accounting" don't just sound more pleasant than "cooking the books." They also make us more willing to cross moral lines while still seeing ourselves as good people. But new research, coauthored by Benoît Monin, a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at Stanford University, shows that it doesn't take doublespeak to sway moral behavior. In fact, subtle changes to the same word can actually make people behave more ethically.