NamelessÂ +Â harmlessÂ =Â blameless: When seemingly irrelevant factors influence judgment of (un)ethical behavior
People often make judgments about the ethicality of others' behaviors and then decide how harshly to punish such behaviors. When they make these judgments and decisions, sometimes the victims of the unethical behavior are identifiable, and sometimes they are not. In addition, in our uncertain world, sometimes an unethical action causes harm, and sometimes it does not. We argue that a rational assessment of ethicality should not depend on the identifiability of the victim of wrongdoing or the actual harm caused if the judge and the decision maker have the same information. Yet in five laboratory studies, we show that these factors have a systematic effect on how people judge the ethicality of the perpetrator of an unethical action. Our studies show that people judge behavior as more unethical when: (1) identifiable vs. unidentifiable victims are involved and (2) the behavior leads to a negative rather than a positive outcome. We also find that people's willingness to punish wrongdoers is consistent with their judgments, and we offer preliminary evidence on how to reduce these biases.
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Volume (Year): 111 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (March)
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- Jenni, Karen E & Loewenstein, George, 1997. "Explaining the "Identifiable Victim Effect."," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 235-57, May-June.
- Small, Deborah A & Loewenstein, George, 2003. "Helping a Victim or Helping the Victim: Altruism and Identifiability," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 5-16, January.
- Eckel, Catherine C. & Grossman, Philip J., 1996. "The relative price of fairness: gender differences in a punishment game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 143-158, August.
- Kogut, Tehila & Ritov, Ilana, 2005. "The singularity effect of identified victims in separate and joint evaluations," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 106-116, July.
- 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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