It’s more important to be moral than it is to be likable or smart, according to research by Chicago Booth postdoctoral researcher Justin F. Landy, Lancaster University’s Jared Piazza, and University of Pennsylvania’s Geoffrey P. Goodwin.
Moral character “is perhaps the only kind of trait that is unambiguously positive,” says Landy. And a person’s morality, or lack thereof, can color how people think about other qualities such as friendliness and intelligence.
In an experiment, the researchers asked participants to imagine acquaintances who were either moral or not. When asked, participants said they preferred the moral people to be sociable and competent—but they preferred the immoral people to be the opposite. After all, a competent and social but immoral person would have an easier time carrying out their sinister goals, the researchers say.
“Morality predicts the nature of another person’s goals, whereas competence and sociability both predict the likelihood that a person will accomplish their goals,” the researchers write.
This being the case, companies might want to put more emphasis on morality than likeability or even competence, Landy says.