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Nameless + harmless = blameless: When seemingly irrelevant factors influence judgment of (un)ethical behavior

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  • Gino, Francesca
  • Shu, Lisa L.
  • Bazerman, Max H.

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Gino, Francesca & Shu, Lisa L. & Bazerman, Max H., 2010. "Nameless + harmless = blameless: When seemingly irrelevant factors influence judgment of (un)ethical behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 111(2), pages 93-101, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:111:y:2010:i:2:p:93-101
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Jenni, Karen E & Loewenstein, George, 1997. "Explaining the "Identifiable Victim Effect."," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 235-257, May-June.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Savani, Krishna & King, Dan, 2015. "Perceiving outcomes as determined by external forces: The role of event construal in attenuating the outcome bias," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 136-146.
    2. Bazerman, Max H. & Sezer, Ovul, 2016. "Bounded awareness: Implications for ethical decision making," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 95-105.
    3. Schminke, Marshall & Caldwell, James & Ambrose, Maureen L. & McMahon, Sean R., 2014. "Better than ever? Employee reactions to ethical failures in organizations, and the ethical recovery paradox," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 123(2), pages 206-219.
    4. repec:eee:jeborg:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:435-448 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Rixom, Jessica & Mishra, Himanshu, 2014. "Ethical ends: Effect of abstract mindsets in ethical decisions for the greater social good," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 124(2), pages 110-121.
    6. Sharma, Eesha & Mazar, Nina & Alter, Adam L. & Ariely, Dan, 2014. "Financial deprivation selectively shifts moral standards and compromises moral decisions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 123(2), pages 90-100.
    7. repec:eee:jouret:v:93:y:2017:i:4:p:420-439 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Sezer, Ovul & Zhang, Ting & Gino, Francesca & Bazerman, Max H., 2016. "Overcoming the outcome bias: Making intentions matter," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 13-26.

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