We’ve all had bosses and colleagues who come across as holier than thou, who say “Do as I say, not as I do.” But why do people put up false fronts in the workplace? And is it intentional or unconscious? We tend to vilify those with double standards who espouse inauthentic ethical principles. But could you be a hypocrite and not know it? What if you discovered you were? What would you do about it? Research shows taking a bird’s-eye view and looking at our own hypocrisy and learning the inconsistencies between what we say and do can actually be a good course of action—even lead to personal growth and career success.

Research Shows Value Of Hypocrisy Awareness

A series of studies by Elliot Aronson and his research team in the 1990s showed that inducing hypocrisy in a social setting actually leads study participants into positive behavior changes. When people are confronted with their own hypocrisy, they’re able to overcome the mismatch between what they preach and the actions they take. In the team’s landmark study, they asked college students to publicly advocate for the importance of safe sex and condom use then making them aware of their own past failures to use condoms. The students delivered a convincing videotaped speech about AIDS in which they implored the audience to use condoms. Then, they were asked to remember times and circumstances when they failed to use condoms while having sex. Participants were then given the opportunity to purchase condoms before leaving the laboratory. The results showed that those participants who were hypocritical purchased more condoms than did non-hypocritical participants. The implications of Aaronson’s landmark hypocrisy inducement procedure was that it can be used as a method to encourage condom use during the AIDS crisis.

Valerie Fointiat at the University of Provence used the hypocrisy inducement procedure in a road safety situation. She contacted 156 housewives in a supermarket car park, randomly assigning them to experimental and control conditions. The women were invited to participate in a Road Safety Association study and sign a flyer that said, “Everybody has to respect speed limits. When you drive slowly, life goes on.” Signing the flyer made the participants mindful of their positive attitude toward respect for speed limits. Then the women were made mindful of their past transgressions concerning speed limits. To facilitate the recall of their transgressions, they answered questions, such as: considering the last two months, did you violate the speed limit? How many times? Under what circumstances? When and why? Next, the experimenter presented the target request: the commitment to install a recording tachometer in their car.

The participants who signed the flyer and recalled their past transgressions were more inclined to install a recording tachometer than those in the control condition who did not experience a hypocritical feeling. The greater the dissonance the greater the motivation to reduce it. The researchers suggest that this could explain why people are more inclined to adopt more behaviors for the common good such as installing a recording tachometer when their own self-integrity is threatened. Most Popular In: Careers

Hypocrisy-Inducement And Mask Wearing

Over the years, other studies have been conducted in a variety of other areas such as water consumption, recycling, sober driving, smoker attitudes, and donations for the homeless. In all these studies, making participants mindful of the discrepancy between what they advocate and what they do led to positive behavior changes. Overall, hypocrisy-induced nudges may have the ability to make socially shared beliefs more salient and individuals more obliged to conform to social norms, resulting in behavioral changes. These studies show that the hypocrisy inducement method represents a good way to restore their self-integrity and ethical considerations in the workplace. And it raises the question, “Could this procedure be valuable to encourage more mask wearing during the pandemic?”

Takeaway From Hypocrisy Research

We’re all fallible human beings and need to live and work together for a better world. Most people are flawed and that flawed piece of us resides in every person we judge—the friend coworker who talks over you in a meeting, the person on a loud cell phone conversation in the cubicle beside you, the colleague who takes the last cup of coffee without replenishing the pot. We’re all alike with our personal struggles, most of us doing the best we can, deeply loved by parents, a spouse, a child or a friend. Besides, how many times have you talked over someone? Talked too loudly and interrupted or disturbed someone? Or bumped into another shopper accidentally. I’ve done all the above, and you know you have, too—we all have.  

Perhaps the major takeaway from the hypocrisy research is that threats to our integrity can promote personal growth and encourage us to align with our authentic selves. If we’re willing to recognize our own hypocrisy between what we say and do, it can help us overcome our cognitive dissonance, change our workplace behaviors and bring them in alignment with what we preach and with who we think we are and where we want our careers to go.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: https://bryanrobinsonphd.com.