Strategic Ignorance and the Robustness of Social Preferences
How robust are social preferences to variations in the environment in which a decision is made? By varying the elicitation method and default choice in the `moral wiggle-room' game of Dana, Weber, and Kuang (2007), I examine the robustness and nature of the pattern of information avoidance in which many dictators in experiments-- if initially uncertain-- avoid learning whether their choice will help or hurt another person and choose selfishly. When ignorance is not the default choice, participants choose it much less frequently. However, when dictators express their outcome choice using the strategy method, most are willing to overcome the default choice and reveal the payoff state ex post. I conclude that people will employ strategic ignorance to avoid a morally-fraught decision if they can do so passively, but having to actively choose ignorance betrays its usefulness and leads to behavior largely consistent with models of preferences over outcomes. Thus while opportunities to create and exploit moral wiggle-room limit fair-minded behavior, environmental or psychological variables may reinforce the motivation that leads people to choose fair outcomes.
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