Monday, August 7, 2017

Hypocrite People: The Thousand Faces of Falsehood

social psychology

I like authentic and direct people, those who, if they miss you look for you, if they like you, they tell it to you as if something of you bothers them. Without compromise. I have always preferred honest distance to hypocritical proximity.

But in the world there are also hypocrites, and we must learn to live with them. Hypocrisy is the inconsistency between what is said and what is being done. In a sense, it is a way to conceal or suppress true desires, thoughts and emotions to adapt to the expectations of the environment or to gain a benefit.

Perhaps the best definition of hypocrisy comes from Adlai E. Stevenson: “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation”.

3 types of hypocrisy

1. Double morality. It refers to people who constantly cite rules, but in reality they never act according to those moral rules. For example, a person can continually talk about the importance of helping the others, but when it comes the time to stretch the hand he or she turns to the other side. That person can exalt values ​​such as loyalty and the importance of telling the truth, but then he or she is unfaithful to his or her partner.

2. Double moral standard. It refers to those who are lazy when judging themselves, but apply iron rules to the others. For example, those who get very angry when a driver does not respect a pedestrian crossing, but when they do it, they get many excuses to explain why they did not stop. They are the classic people who see the glitter in the neighbor's eye, but not the beam in their eyes.

3. Moral weakness. These are people who come into conflict with their attitudes because of what is known as cognitive dissonance. For example, they can talk about the importance of voting, but the day of the election they won’t do it. In this case, it is about a lack of self-control, the person truly believes in what he or she says, but when it comes to put it into practice he or she does not have sufficient willpower, even though has no courage to acknowledge it publicly, so he or she continues to give moral lessons.

Why are people hypocritical?

You are likely to know more than a hypocritical person. And it is also likely that you wonder how this person can’t understand the inconsistency of his words and actions.

The explanation for this phenomenon is offered by psychologist Patricia Linville, who worked at Yale University and who coined the term "self-complexity" in the mid-1980s. Her hypothesis is that as less complex is the cognitive representation of the ego the more extreme will be the mood fluctuations and attitudes of the person.

In other words, some people tend to perceive themselves from a very limited point of view, for example, they define themselves through a series of roles they play, so they think they are a "devoted mother" or a "successful manager". The problem is that having a so limited definition of ourselves makes us psychologically unstable and prevents us from facing the contradictions inherent the complexity of personality and the environment.

To better understand this phenomenon we can take a look at an experiment conducted at the University of Miami. These psychologists asked college students to evaluate the importance of study skills. So they asked them to remember every time they overlooked the study, in order to uncover the possible hypocrisy behind the first answers.

It is interesting to note that at that time, students who had a lesser self-complexity were more likely to change their initial opinions; that is, they rectified by indicating that after all, studying was not so important.

This could explain why some people say something and do some completely different. Their comments come from a representation of the self completely separate from the one acting in other circumstances. In practice, hypocritical people seek only to preserve the identity they have built by separating their words from their actions.

In the case of politicians, for example, it often happens that they maintain a speech related to their "political self" while doing something diametrically opposed to their “business” or “family self”. In this way they save their different "self" because they are not able to integrate them.

These studies indicate that many people behave hypocritically without realizing it. In fact, often when we point out their contradictions they do not recognize them and hide behind apologies.

Of course, not all people live in this state of "hypocritical ignorance". There are also those who learn to exploit hypocrisy, especially when they realize that following certain ideas is neither practical nor profitable. These people have no problem in proclaiming something and doing exactly the opposite, if they think it is convenient. But they do not openly recognize their hypocrisy, because it is too painful and would represent a tough blow for their "self", so they will argue that they acted out of the circumstances.

5 behaviors that betray the hypocrites

1. They are always ready to punish someone. Their "high" moral standards will always make them to point their finger at someone, and they may also be willing to publicly humiliate that person. It is a clearing strategy through which they try to focus their attention on the other to avoid falling into their discrepancies and behaviors.

2. Have a halo of moral superiority. Hypocrite people tend to be halfway between narcissism and intellectual superiority. Their level of arrogance can make that when you interact with them you feel inferior, immature or not good enough. These people will not hesitate to reproach any of your actions, words or attitudes.

3. Rules never apply to them. Rules and regulations exist, but only for the others. Hypocrite people believe that because they have an innate sense of law and morality, they are above the law.

4. They are never guilty, they always have an excuse at hand. Hypocrite people almost never recognize their discrepancies and mistakes, even in the face of evidence. These people do not apologize or admit their responsibility, but continually resort to apologies. For them, circumstances are always a mitigating factor, and mistakes are never theirs.

5. Do what I say but not what I do. This could be the motto that characterizes hypocritical people. Their actions almost never coincide with their words. That's because their main motivation is to look good and meet the expectations of the others.

Why do hypocritical people bother us so much?

The answer, or at least part of it, comes from a Yale University study. These psychologists discovered that what most concerns us about hypocrites is not the inconsistency of their words and actions, but their false moral affirmations and that pretend to be more virtuous of what they are.

In practice, we do not like hypocrites because they disappoint us. In fact, it has been found that we tend to believe and prefer moral statements or that imply a certain degree of generalization to explain behavior. For example, if a person abandons a project, we prefer the explanation "it makes no sense to waste more energy" rather than "I do not want to waste more energy". So when we discover the truth we feel more disappointed and deceived.

This means that, in a sense, we also help to ensure that hypocrisy is kept at a social level. In fact, in some situations it could be that we too have acted hypocritically trying to give a better image of ourselves.

So the best way to fight against hypocrisy is to be authentic and understand that there are many contradictions in each of us. We do not need to meet the expectations of the others, nor do we have to transform ourselves into moralists who preach their gospel to others. Live and let live.

Jordan, J. J. et. Al. (2017) Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling. Psychological Science; 28(3): 1–13.
McConnel, A. R. & Brown, C. M. (2010) Dissonance averted: Self-concept organization moderates the effect of hypocrisy on attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; 46(2): 361-366.
Linville, P. W. (1985) Self-Complexity and Affective Extremity: Don't Put All of Your Eggs in One Cognitive Basket. Social Cognition; 3: 94-120.


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Hypocrite People: The Thousand Faces of Falsehood
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Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to to string words together. Discover my Books


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