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Motivated Bayesians: Feeling Moral While Acting Egoistically

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  • Francesca Gino
  • Michael I. Norton
  • Roberto A. Weber

Abstract

Research yields ample evidence that individual's behavior often reflects an apparent concern for moral considerations. A natural way to interpret evidence of such motives using an economic framework is to add an argument to the utility function such that agents obtain utility both from outcomes that yield only personal benefits and from acting kindly, honestly, or according to some other notion of "right." Indeed, such interpretations can account for much of the existing empirical evidence. However, a growing body of research at the intersection of psychology and economics produces findings inconsistent with such straightforward, preference-based interpretations for moral behavior. In particular, while people are often willing to take a moral act that imposes personal material costs when confronted with a clear-cut choice between "right" and "wrong," such decisions often seem to be dramatically influenced by the specific contexts in which they occur. In particular, when the context provides sufficient flexibility to allow plausible justification that one can both act egoistically while remaining moral, people seize on such opportunities to prioritize self-interest at the expense of morality. In other words, people who appear to exhibit a preference for being moral may in fact be placing a value on feeling moral, often accomplishing this goal by manipulating the manner in which they process information to justify taking egoistic actions while maintaining this feeling of morality.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesca Gino & Michael I. Norton & Roberto A. Weber, 2016. "Motivated Bayesians: Feeling Moral While Acting Egoistically," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 189-212, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:3:p:189-212
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.189
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Benabou, Roland & Falk, Armin & Tirole, Jean, 2018. "Narratives, Imperatives, and Moral Reasoning," IZA Discussion Papers 11665, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Kellner, Christian & Reinstein, David & Riener, Gerhard, 2019. "Ex-ante commitments to “give if you win” exceed donations after a win," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 109-127.
    3. Nadja R. Ging-Jehli & Florian H. Schneider & Roberto A. Weber, 2019. "On Self-Serving Strategic Beliefs," CESifo Working Paper Series 7517, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Cristina Bicchieri & Eugen Dimant, 2018. "It's Not A Lie If You Believe It. Lying and Belief Distortion Under Norm-Uncertainty," PPE Working Papers 0012, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    5. Choo, Lawrence & Grimm, Veronika & Horváth, Gergely & Nitta, Kohei, 2019. "Whistleblowing and diffusion of responsibility: An experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 287-301.
    6. Florence Touya, 2019. "The Assignment of a CSR Level of Action: Rule vs Discretion," Working Papers hal-02141052, HAL.
    7. Florence TOUYA, 2019. "The Assignment of a CSR Level of Action: Rule vs Discretion," Working Papers 2018-2019_3, CATT - UPPA - Université de Pau et des Pays de l'Adour, revised Jun 2019.
    8. Robert J. Shiller, 2017. "Narrative Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(4), pages 967-1004, April.
    9. Nikoloz Kudashvili & Philipp Lergetporer, 2019. "Do Minorities Misrepresent Their Ethnicity to Avoid Discrimination?," CESifo Working Paper Series 7861, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Christine L. Exley & Judd B. Kessler, 2017. "Motivated Errors," Harvard Business School Working Papers 18-017, Harvard Business School, revised May 2018.
    11. Akın, Zafer, 2019. "Dishonesty, social information, and sorting," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 199-210.
    12. Nikoloz Kudashvili & Philipp Lergetporer, 2019. "Do Minorities Misrepresent Their Ethnicity to Avoid Discrimination?," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp644, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    13. Markus Brunner & Andreas Ostermaier, 2019. "Peer Influence on Managerial Honesty: The Role of Transparency and Expectations," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 154(1), pages 127-145, January.
    14. David Klinowski, 2018. "Gender differences in giving in the Dictator Game: the role of reluctant altruism," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 4(2), pages 110-122, December.
    15. Hestermann, Nina & Le Yaouanq, Yves & Treich, Nicolas, 2019. "An Economic Model of the Meat Paradox," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 164, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    16. Peter Schwardmann & Egon Tripodi & Joël J. van der Weele, 2019. "Self-Persuasion: Evidence from Field Experiments at Two International Debating Competitions," CESifo Working Paper Series 7946, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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