Based on research done by Sachdeva, Sonya., Iliev, Rumen., Medin, Douglas. L. (2009) written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.
Does prior good behavior give us moral credit to opt out of future moral behavior? This idea, referred to as moral self-licensing, suggests past generous acts alleviate guilt of present bad behaviors or leads us to be less likely to choose positive behaviors.
Researchers asked 50 college students to describe themselves using moral, immoral, or neutral words. Later, participants had the opportunity to donate a portion of their participant compensation to charity. Those discussing themselves in positive words donated one fifth the amount as those who described themselves using negative terms
In a second study, participants wrote a story about themselves or someone they knew. There was no difference in donation between people assigned to write positive versus negative things about someone else. Apparently, our immediate view of ourselves impacts our future decisions and our self-licensing decreases motivation to give or do good works. Yet many people consistently are more generous than others.
How can we consistently be giving and avoid self-licensing? Periodically we can review our highest ideals and make moral behavior a routine. Recycle regularly, help others daily, give to charity routinely; with the habit, the decision will become easier.