Why You’re Only As Moral As You Are Well-Rested

Pretty much everyone thinks they’re morally-sound. We might return somebody’s dropped wallet, and think to ourselves “I am such a good person!” But then why do ethical transgressions happen so often?

Researchers wondered this same question and chose to pursue finding the answer. One of these methods included moral awareness. Scott Reynolds, a researcher on ethics at the University of Washington, says moral awareness is someone’s determination that a circumstance holds moral legitimacy. Research has uncovered evidence that, sans moral awareness, people are more likely to poorly employ personal moral judgment within situations, while also being less able to properly judge others’ morality. Basically, this has to do a lot with why people make morally-unsound decisions at different times in their lives. Also, without proper moral awareness, people are less likely to recognize unethical actions initiated by others.

However, research has recently discovered that moral awareness is a constantly changing part of a person; any one individual can have high amounts of moral awareness during one point in time and have low amounts of such awareness later on. Much of this is admittedly based on the amount of energy and self-control people have, which varies considerably based on different circumstances presented each day. With this understanding, could a lack of sleep impede a strong sense of moral awareness? 

Beginning with the notion that this type of awareness includes focus on the moral aspects of a decision, that would imply that bringing a moral problem into the forefront can only occur following intense effort of implementing attention towards said dilemma. Considering former research has found that not getting enough sleep makes it harder to hold your attention, it can be guessed upfront that poor sleeping habits would cause disintegrating levels of moral awareness.

In testing this theory, researchers conducted a laboratory study that included randomly-assigned subjects to a control group (with about six-and-a-half hours of sleep, on average) and a group including participants who were sleep deprived (with less than four-and-a-half hours of sleep, on average). Each participant then read a situation involving an ethical transgression, and completed a measure of personal moral awareness. Sure enough, researchers found that sleep-deprived participants had lower moral awareness scores than their control group counterparts!

Knowing this probably acts as both relieving and anxiety-inducing news for many of us. On the one hand, it explains why you cut people off more while night driving, but on the other, it means that being sleep-deprived could alter your moral fiber. In conclusion, there’s no doubt about it: making the right choices each day, begins with your attention to sleep tonight. 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures

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