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Using ethical dilemmas to predict antisocial choices with real payoff consequences: An experimental study

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  • Dickinson, David L.
  • Masclet, David

Abstract

In this paper we investigate the relationship between ethical choices and anti-social behaviors. To address this issue we ran a within-subjects laboratory experiment that included both a classic (hypothetical) moral dilemma (using the well-known Trolley problem) and a real-payoff money-burning experiment. A main contribution is that our Trolley dilemmas separate purely utilitarian from more clearly immoral choice options. Our results show that choices in both environments respond to incentives (i.e., the relative price of the ethical decision), and Trolley problem decisions are consistent with previously known results—individuals prefer no action over action, as well as indirect over direct responsibility, when negative consequences would be similar in either instance. In analyzing the determinants of anti-social money burning, our data identify money burning due to inequality aversion, but we also find some evidence of pure nastiness. Importantly, we find that utilitarian behavior in the Trolley dilemma is not linked to antisocial money burning, which contrasts with previous conclusions in the literature. Nevertheless, we observe that the willingness to commit more clearly ethically dubious acts in the Trolley problem significantly predicts money burning and, more specifically, nastiness. We conclude that choices in hypothetical environments may be useful for predicting antisocial behaviors that have real payoff consequences and efficiency implications.

Suggested Citation

  • Dickinson, David L. & Masclet, David, 2019. "Using ethical dilemmas to predict antisocial choices with real payoff consequences: An experimental study," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 195-215.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:166:y:2019:i:c:p:195-215
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2019.08.023
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Experiments; Money burning; Ethical dilemmas; Anti-social behavior; Trolley problem;

    JEL classification:

    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General

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