Selfish assholes do not remember their own selfish behavior, according to a new study out of Yale University that helpfully answers your pivotal question: How can he live with himself?
He can quite easily, due to a self-protective trick of memory: Selfish people recall themselves behaving more generously than they actually did. “When people behave in ways that fall short of their personal standards, one way they maintain their moral self-image is by misremembering their ethical lapses,” said senior author Molly Crockett, assistant professor of psychology, in a statement.
In a series of experiments, the researchers asked 3,190 participants to share money with anonymous strangers, or to divide a pot of money fairly. They were later asked to recall how much money they’d shared, and incentivized to answer accurately with bonus money for correct recollections. Those who were stingy or unfair in their sharing misremembered, telling researchers that they’d shared fair amounts. The people who behaved generously toward strangers remembered accurately.
“The desire to preserve a moral self-image can be a powerful force to not only motivate us to rationalize our unethical actions, but also to ‘revise’ such actions in our memory,” researcher Ryan Carlson added.
This explains so much of the eyebrows-in-hairline behavior you’ve witnessed over the years! In short: Selfish people’s memories are telling them that they’re caring humans. Of course.