Monday, March 29, 2010

How Ethical Are We?

The Uncommon Knowledge section of the Sunday Boston Globe featured a synopsis of an interesting new study about ethical decision making. The University of Toronto's Chen-Bo Zhong and several co-authors explored the question of whether poor ethical choices tend to occur more frequently during snap judgments or situations involving time for more extensive thought and reflection. Interestingly, Professor Zhong's results suggest that ethical lapses occur more often when people take time to consider their decisions. It may have to do with the fact that individuals assess their "morality bank account" if they have time to consider their decisions. The authors suggest that we may come to believe that we have earned some amount of "morality credits" after making ethical choices. Unfortunately, that means we then become comfortable making less ethical choices, because perhaps we see it as just drawing upon the credits that we have earned over time. In other words, we may come to think of less ethical choices as akin to withdrawing from a savings account that we have done a good job of building previously.


lstankie said...

I like what this suggests about human nature, that our first reaction is to "do the right thing" but that that can get distorted after a while. Still it's a scary thought since it applies to all the important decision makers out there. I'd be interested to know how the decision makers in the study determined how much ethical "cash" they had and how much each decision "cost."

amarshail said...

Can it not work the other way too if people take time to consider their decisions? Someone might find not enough 'morality credit' in the account and hence take a more ethical decision.