The rejection of moral rebels: resenting those who do the right thing

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Jul;95(1):76-93. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.1.76.


Four studies document the rejection of moral rebels. In Study 1, participants who made a counterattitudinal speech disliked a person who refused on principle to do so, but uninvolved observers preferred this rebel to an obedient other. In Study 2, participants taking part in a racist task disliked a rebel who refused to go along, but mere observers did not. This rejection was mediated by the perception that rebels would reject obedient participants (Study 3), but did not occur when participants described an important trait or value beforehand (Study 4). Together, these studies suggest that rebels are resented when their implicit reproach threatens the positive self-image of individuals who did not rebel.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Character
  • Culture
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Prejudice
  • Rejection, Psychology*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Conformity*
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Perception
  • Social Responsibility*