When it comes to the morals and the principles you hold dear, there's just one problem. You can be bought off. And often for a low price at that.
As complicated as we think humans are, it all comes down to a basic principle: We want to feel good about our decisions, even if we're lying to ourselves. If we're sacrificing in some way, we start to convince ourselves it's a good thing.
That can be anything from the mundane (that excruciatingly boring play was totally worth my time!) to the horrific (as when Nazi Germany's systemic persecution of Jews made the average German citizen less likely to protest.)
We often approach life thinking we're guided by a moral code -- don't lie, treat people kindly, look out for others. But social science has proven just how easy it is to get people to abandon their principles and even change their opinions for a small reward that makes them feel good.
It turns out that smaller rewards, say accepting $1 to lie vs. $20, are often bigger motivators to bend our moral code because we've sacrificed more.
It's called cognitive dissonance, the discomfort we feel when we hold two contradictory beliefs. Check out the video above for a classic case showing just how easily we can be bought off.
Students are asked to complete an extremely boring experiment and then offered a reward to tell another student how interesting the task was. Whether for $20 or $1, the students are willing to lie to their peers.
In fact, students with the lower reward for lying were even more likely to believe their own lie because the $1 payoff was so low. They convinced themselves of the lie to get rid of discomfort over being dishonest.
Want to test this out in your own life? It's really easy, according to that great social experimenter Ben Franklin (seriously, is there any field that guy wasn't involved in?)
Franklin said the best way to get someone to like you is to finagle a favor from them. Once someone has sacrificed for you, they'll convince themselves they like you; otherwise, the sacrifice of the favor was in vain and we all subconsciously try to avoid that.