Studies in the behavioral ethics and moral psychology traditions have begun to reveal the important roles of self-related processes that underlie moral behavior. Unfortunately, this research has resulted in two distinct and opposing streams of findings that are usually referred to as moral consistency and moral compensation. Moral consistency research shows that a salient self-concept as a moral person promotes moral behavior. Conversely, moral compensation research reveals that a salient self-concept as an immoral person promotes moral behavior. This study's aim was to integrate these two literatures. We argued that compensation forms a reactive, "damage control" response in social situations, whereas consistency derives from a more proactive approach to reputation building and maintenance. Two experiments supported this prediction in showing that cognitive depletion (i.e., resulting in a reactive approach) results in moral compensation whereas consistency results when cognitive resources are available (i.e., resulting in a proactive approach). Experiment 2 revealed that these processes originate from reputational (rather than moral) considerations by showing that they emerge only under conditions of accountability. It can thus be concluded that reputational concerns are important for both moral compensation and moral consistency processes, and that which of these two prevails depends on the perspective that people take: a reactive or a proactive approach.
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