Motivated Bayesians: Feeling Moral While Acting Egoistically
- (pp. 189-212)
AbstractResearch yields ample evidence that individual's behavior often reflects an apparent concern for moral considerations. A natural way to interpret evidence of such motives using an economic framework is to add an argument to the utility function such that agents obtain utility both from outcomes that yield only personal benefits and from acting kindly, honestly, or according to some other notion of "right." Indeed, such interpretations can account for much of the existing empirical evidence. However, a growing body of research at the intersection of psychology and economics produces findings inconsistent with such straightforward, preference-based interpretations for moral behavior. In particular, while people are often willing to take a moral act that imposes personal material costs when confronted with a clear-cut choice between "right" and "wrong," such decisions often seem to be dramatically influenced by the specific contexts in which they occur. In particular, when the context provides sufficient flexibility to allow plausible justification that one can both act egoistically while remaining moral, people seize on such opportunities to prioritize self-interest at the expense of morality. In other words, people who appear to exhibit a preference for being moral may in fact be placing a value on feeling moral, often accomplishing this goal by manipulating the manner in which they process information to justify taking egoistic actions while maintaining this feeling of morality.
CitationGino, Francesca, Michael I. Norton, and Roberto A. Weber. 2016. "Motivated Bayesians: Feeling Moral While Acting Egoistically." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30 (3): 189-212. DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.189
- D12 Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
- D83 Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
- Z13 Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification