Dampening effect of unethical experience on memory

Dongmei MEI, Man Wai LI, Wei HE, Ding-Guo GAO

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


The current research examined the effect of unethical and ethical acts on memory. We hypothesized that, compared with ethical acts, unethical acts, which threaten people’s self-image, would be more likely to dampen the general memory process. Three studies provided supports for the hypothesis. We found in Study 1 that an unethical act led to worse performance in an incidental memory test among Chinese participants. In Study 2, to test the generalizability of the obtained results in a different culture, we recruited participants in the United States and replicated the findings from Study 1. In Study 3, we further tested whether the influence of unethical or ethical acts on memory would be different when the acts were self-related versus other-related, with self-related unethical acts being more likely to threaten people’s self-image. We found that self-related but not other-related unethical acts elicited the dampening effect on memory. Finally, we showed through a mini meta-analysis of the obtained results that both ethical and unethical acts led to worse memory performance than neutral acts, and the unethical acts triggered a stronger dampening effect on memory than did ethical acts. Copyright © 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Early online dateJul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jul 2022


Mei, D., Li, L. M. W., He, W., & Gao, D.-G. (2022). Dampening effect of unethical experience on memory. Current Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s12144-022-03334-1


  • Unethical behavior
  • Ethical behavior
  • Memory
  • Morality
  • Dampening effect


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