Oh boy. You’ll love this one. As the day wears on, we become less ethical.


A new study suggests that our moral compass is more reliable when we face those decisions in the morning rather than in the afternoon. In a series of studies at Harvard and at the University of Utah, 327 men and women were studies to measure cheating or lying behaviors. Several different studies were performed. In one, the subjects attempted to solve math problems, some of which were impossible, knowing they would be paid 5 cents for every solved problem. They reported their own scores, giving them an opportunity to lie and thus receive more money. The result was that people who participated in the afternoon session were more likely to cheat than those who took part in the morning sessions.

Why is this? Ethical decision often require self-control, which past research has found to be dependent on the body’s energy stores, much like a muscle. If it is heavily taxed, it eventually becomes exhausted. This study suggests that even the regular activities of daily life can deplete these resources. The study also hints that sleep is crucial for rebuilding moral muscle. Sleep deprivation hampers ethical decision making. The study suggests making ethical decision in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

Wow. Can see it now. “Officer, I am not responsible for my wrong decision because I made it in the afternoon. Please don’t give me a ticket. I promise I will go home and have a nap and recharge my ethical brain so that the rest of the day will be better.”

I bet that is one defense they never thought of.