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It’s Easier to Be Moral in the Morning


Have a job that depends on a high level of ethical decision making? You’re probably better at it in the morning, according to a new series of studies at Harvard and the University of Utah. If, on the other hand, your job involves House of Cards-level deception and subterfuge, well, maybe in your case, the early bird does not get the worm.

early bird 

(Photo Credit: Abroudjameur/

Researchers designed a series of tasks to measure cheating or other unethical behavior, and asked 327 subjects to complete them. One task, for example, involved solving a series of math problems and then self-reporting whether or not the subjects got them right. Participants were paid 5 cents for every correct answer.

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Unbeknownst to the test takers, some of the problems were actually impossible, making it easy to tell when participants decided to lie about their results in order to earn more cash. In every experiment, subjects who participated in the afternoon sessions were more likely to lie than those who took the tests in the morning.

Why were participants more ethical in the morning?

“Ethical decisions 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,” writes Nessa Bryce at Scientific American. “This study suggests that even the regular activities of daily life can deplete these resources. It also hints that sleep is crucial for rebuilding moral muscle; indeed, previous research shows that sleep deprivation hampers ethical decision making.”

In other words, doing the right thing is hard. You’re more likely to push through temptation if you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think people are more moral earlier in the day? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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