To Cheat or Not to Cheat on an Exam

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The present study examined the role played by emotional intelligence in moral judgment when the matter to be evaluated is either clear-cut or controversial (i.e., pitting one cognition against another). To do so, the study relied on an understudied population of female college students whose society is undergoing drastic changes juxtaposing individualism, meritocracy, and gender equity to collectivism, tribalism, and patriarchy. As a result, opposing cognitions currently coexist in the minds of the participants who completed an emotional intelligence scale and a cultural orientation scale, and then read a story involving a moral dilemma that was emotionally relevant to them (i.e., cheating on a test). One version of the dilemma described a resolution that was ethical but violated collectivistic norms of loyalty toward one’s group, whereas another version described an unethical resolution. Students’ emotional intelligence scores, irrespective of their cultural orientation, predicted moral judgment in the ethical-ending story, but not in the unethical-ending story. This finding underscores the continued relevance of collectivistic norms at a time when such norms may be overshadowed by individualistic themes of western import. The finding also contributes to the extant literature on ethics by showing that in moral judgment, emotional intelligence is strategically engaged by opposing cognitions, such as when honesty is pitted against loyalty to one’s group.