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No harm, no foul: The outcome bias in ethical judgments


  • Francesca Gino

    () (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Don A. Moore

    () (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Max H. Bazerman

    () (Harvard Business School, Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit)


We present six studies demonstrating that outcome information biases ethical judgments of others' ethically-questionable behaviors. In particular, we show that the same behaviors produce more ethical condemnation when they happen to produce bad rather than good outcomes, even if the outcomes are determined by chance. Our studies show that individuals judge behaviors as less ethical, more blameworthy, and punish them more harshly, when such behaviors led to undesirable consequences, even if they saw those behaviors as acceptable before they knew its consequences. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that a rational, analytic mindset can override the effects of one's intuitions in ethical judgments. Implications for both research and practice are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesca Gino & Don A. Moore & Max H. Bazerman, 2008. "No harm, no foul: The outcome bias in ethical judgments," Harvard Business School Working Papers 08-080, Harvard Business School, revised Apr 2009.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-080

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Camerer, Colin & Loewenstein, George & Weber, Martin, 1989. "The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1232-1254, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cubitt, Robin P. & Drouvelis, Michalis & Gächter, Simon & Kabalin, Ruslan, 2011. "Moral judgments in social dilemmas: How bad is free riding?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(3), pages 253-264.

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    outcome bias; unethical behavior; judgment; ethical decision making;

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