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Self-serving altruism? The lure of unethical actions that benefit others

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  • Gino, Francesca
  • Ayal, Shahar
  • Ariely, Dan

Abstract

In three experiments, we propose and find that individuals cheat more when others can benefit from their cheating and when the number of beneficiaries of wrongdoing increases. Our results indicate that people use moral flexibility to justify their self-interested actions when such actions benefit others in addition to the self. Namely, our findings suggest that when people's dishonesty would benefit others, they are more likely to view dishonesty as morally acceptable and thus feel less guilty about benefiting from cheating. We discuss the implications of these results for collaborations in the social realm.

Suggested Citation

  • Gino, Francesca & Ayal, Shahar & Ariely, Dan, 2013. "Self-serving altruism? The lure of unethical actions that benefit others," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 285-292.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:93:y:2013:i:c:p:285-292
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2013.04.005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Shalvi, Shaul & Leiser, David, 2013. "Moral firmness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 400-407.
    2. Sanjiv Erat & Uri Gneezy, 2012. "White Lies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(4), pages 723-733, April.
    3. Schweitzer, Maurice E & Hsee, Christopher K, 2002. "Stretching the Truth: Elastic Justification and Motivated Communication of Uncertain Information," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 25(2), pages 185-201, September.
    4. Wiltermuth, Scott S., 2011. "Cheating more when the spoils are split," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 157-168, July.
    5. Lewis, Alan & Bardis, Alexander & Flint, Chloe & Mason, Claire & Smith, Natalya & Tickle, Charlotte & Zinser, Jennifer, 2012. "Drawing the line somewhere: An experimental study of moral compromise," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(4), pages 718-725.
    6. Mead, N.L. & Baumeister, R.F. & Gino, F. & Schweitzer, M.E. & Ariely, D., 2009. "Too tired to tell the truth : Self-control resource depletion and dishonesty," Other publications TiSEM c60167a3-c3aa-4b83-9192-1, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    7. Gino, Francesca & Schweitzer, Maurice E. & Mead, Nicole L. & Ariely, Dan, 2011. "Unable to resist temptation: How self-control depletion promotes unethical behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 191-203, July.
    8. Francesca Gino & Lamar Pierce, 2010. "Lying to Level the Playing Field: Why People May Dishonestly Help or Hurt Others to Create Equity," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 95(1), pages 89-103, September.
    9. Nina Mazar & Dan Ariely, 2006. "Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications," Working Papers 06-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    10. Shalvi, Shaul & Dana, Jason & Handgraaf, Michel J.J. & De Dreu, Carsten K.W., 2011. "Justified ethicality: Observing desired counterfactuals modifies ethical perceptions and behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 181-190, July.
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