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No harm, no foul: The outcome bias in ethical judgments

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Author Info

  • Francesca Gino

    ()
    (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Don A. Moore

    ()
    (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Max H. Bazerman

    ()
    (Harvard Business School, Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit)

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    Abstract

    We present six studies demonstrating that outcome information biases ethical judgments of others' ethically-questionable behaviors. In particular, we show that the same behaviors produce more ethical condemnation when they happen to produce bad rather than good outcomes, even if the outcomes are determined by chance. Our studies show that individuals judge behaviors as less ethical, more blameworthy, and punish them more harshly, when such behaviors led to undesirable consequences, even if they saw those behaviors as acceptable before they knew its consequences. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that a rational, analytic mindset can override the effects of one's intuitions in ethical judgments. Implications for both research and practice are discussed.

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    File URL: http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/08-080.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 08-080.

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    Length: 52 pages
    Date of creation: Feb 2008
    Date of revision: Apr 2009
    Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-080

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    Related research

    Keywords: outcome bias; unethical behavior; judgment; ethical decision making;

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    1. Camerer, Colin & Loewenstein, George & Weber, Martin, 1989. "The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1232-54, October.
    2. Hershey, John C. & Baron, Jonathan, 1992. "Judgment by outcomes: When is it justified?," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 89-93, October.
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    Cited by:
    1. Cubitt, Robin P. & Drouvelis, Michalis & Gächter, Simon & Kabalin, Ruslan, 2011. "Moral judgments in social dilemmas: How bad is free riding?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(3), pages 253-264.

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