Simon M. Lahama, Adam L. Alterb, and Geoffrey P. Goodwinc report a surprising result in “Easy on the mind, easy on the wrongdoer: Discrepantly fluent violations are deemed less morally wrong” Cognition, Volume 112, Issue 3, September 2009, pages 462–466.
From the paper:
Participants completed a questionnaire in which they read six vignettes describing various moral violations: ‘Punch’ (one man punches another in a bar), ‘Flag’ (teacher burns Australian flag in class), ‘Dog’ (family eats its dead dog), ‘Deface’ (man defaces a memorial), ‘Hitler’ (man taunts Jewish sports fans with Hitler imitation), ‘Kiss’ (brother and sister kiss passionately).
Each of the participants read three of the stories in an easy-to-read format and the other three in a harder-to-read format.
In the words of the authors:
…discrepant perceptual fluency decreased perceptions of wrongness compared to discrepant disfluency. Further, and consistent with effects of discrepant fluency on truth judgments (Hansen et al., 2008), it seems that this difference is accounted for by fluent processing decreasing, rather than disfluent processing increasing, perceptions of wrongness.
In normal English: people thought that immoral choices were less serious when they were easy to read about. In theological terms, they excused sin because of how good it looked (or more precisely based upon how easy it was to understand). Apparently cleanliness is next to godliness (or at least legibility is next to living right).
So the next time you have something to confess, be sure to print it on nice paper and use a laser printer. It just might give you the edge you need.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)