Why does past moral behavior sometimes lead people to do more of the same (consistency), whereas sometimes it liberates them to do the opposite (licensing)? We organize the literature on moderators of moral consistency versus licensing effects using five conceptual themes: construal level, progress versus commitment, identification, value reflection, and ambiguity. Our review reveals that individuals are more likely to exhibit consistency when they focus abstractly on the connection between their initial behavior and their values, whereas they are more likely to exhibit licensing when they think concretely about what they have accomplished with their initial behavior—as long as the second behavior does not blatantly threaten a cherished identity. Moreover, many studies lacked baseline conditions (“donut” designs), leaving it ambiguous whether licensing was observed. And although many proposed moderators yielded significant interactions, evidence for both significant consistency and balancing simple effects in the same study was nearly nonexistent.


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