Almost every language has its own version of the saying about “the pot calling
the kettle black.” This includes Chinese (“The soldier that fled 50 steps mocks
the one that fled 100 steps”), Portuguese (“One with torn clothes mocks the
naked”), German (“One donkey calls the other one long-ears”) and Bengali (“The
sieve tells the needle to mind the hole in its back”). Folk wisdom reflected in
these sayings suggests people are often guilty of the very fault they identify
Newspaper readers are regularly exposed to scandals exposing
supposedly impeccable leading figures as sinners.
A few years ago, Dr.
Rachel Barkan of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Dr. Shahar Ayal of the
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Prof. Francesca Gino of Harvard
University and Prof. Dan Ariely of Duke University discussed two examples. One
involved Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. The dean, known for her harsh policy toward students who puffed up
their credentials, was exposed for lying about her own academic credentials and
forced to resign. A second example regarded Eliot Spitzer, New York’s former
governor – a promising politician who eagerly pursued organized crime,
white-collar corruption and prostitution, but was then forced to resign from
office after being exposed as a client of a prostitution ring.
researchers conjectured that the Pot/Kettle phenomenon was not reserved for
public figures, but reflected a basic psychological mechanism and a general
tendency to overcompensate for one’s own wrongdoing. In a new paper, the
research team unraveled the underlying process of the Pot/Kettle phenomenon.
They highlighted the conditions that trigger this behavior and showed its
function as a tool that clears a guilty conscience and solves the experience of
intense ethical dissonance.
The paper, titled “The Pot Calling the Kettle
Black: A Distancing Response to Ethical Dissonance,” will appear in the the
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
“We defined the Pot/Kettle
phenomenon as a unique response to the experience of ethical dissonance,” said
Barkan. “Dissonance is triggered by the disparity between the ethical values one
believes in and a contradicting dishonest behavior one commits.
behavior is undeniably wrong, common solutions of dissonance such as adjustment
of the belief and/or justification of the behavior are less viable. No one wants
to publicly lower their moral standards, or to admit and justify ethical
This is the point where the Pot/Kettle response kicks in.
People respond by harshly denouncing others as evil and at the same time present
themselves as virtuous.”
By doing so, she said, “people dissociate
themselves from their misconduct and bury it as impossible and
But does this mean that people repent? Are they really
compensating for their past behavior? Do they learn their lesson and become
better people? “Unfortunately our findings suggest the answer is: no, no and
no,” she continued. “In contrast to internal mechanisms of moral regulation in
which people genuinely emphasize ethical values, increase pro-social intentions
and exhibit more honest behavior, the Pot/Kettle response is oriented to an
audience rather than to the self. Our findings show this distancing behavior is
based primarily on impression management. In accord with folk wisdom, the
Pot/Kettle response does not involve a desire to be moral, but rather a desire
to appear moral.”
The Weizmann Institute of Science has
launched two new applications for iPad and Android tablet devices – one for its
quarterly Hebrew magazine Hamachon and another for its online Interface magazine
in English. They are among the first digital magazines in the
The easy-to-read quarterly magazines are geared toward the
general public, featuring cutting-edge news and discoveries from the Rehovot
institute, including a diverse range of topics including cancer, genetics,
astrophysics, alternative energy, computer science and archeology. These digital
editions provide an enhanced reading experience with added interactivity, as
well as offering extra content such as images, videos, podcasts and even songs
and poetry readings, Weizmann said. The apps are available free for download and
subscription from the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Geckos, those cute, greenish little reptiles that dart among plants and up
walls, have the amazing ability to attach their feet to a variety of surfaces
while defying gravity. Now a researcher at the University of Akron in Ohio has
discovered that the self-cleaning and reuse abilities of a gecko’s foot hair
could benefit man. It would be like buying duct tape that one could reuse
forever without having to throw it out.
The study was published recently
in the Journal of the Royal Society. The sticky-yet-clean attribute of this
discovery is that the gecko toe pad can repeatedly attach to and detach from a
surface. The researcher’s team discovered that the clue to a dynamic
self-cleaning mechanism in gecko foot hair is the hyperextension of their
“The analysis reveals that geckos have tiny sticky hairs on their
toes called setaes, and due to the attaching and detaching mechanism caused by
the rolling and peeling motion of their toes as they walk, they release the dirt
particles, leaving their feet clean,” the researchers wrote. “The dynamic
hyperextension effect of its natural toe peeling increases the speed of the
cleaning to nearly twice as fast as previously perceived.”
that their discovery could inspire new applications in space or water
exploration tools or in common items like duct tape or other products that use
sticky properties and not only bind things together securely, but also release
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