Dirty Work, Clean Hands: The Moral Psychology of Indirect Agency

35 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2008 Last revised: 14 Jan 2009

See all articles by Neeru Paharia

Neeru Paharia

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Karim S. Kassam

Harvard University - Department of Psychology

Joshua D. Greene

Harvard University - Department of Psychology

Max H. Bazerman

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: January 12, 2009

Abstract

When powerful people cause harm, they often do so indirectly through other people. Are harmful actions carried out through others evaluated less negatively than harmful actions carried out directly? Four experiments examine the moral psychology of indirect agency. Experiments 1A, 1B, and 1C reveal effects of indirect agency under conditions favoring intuitive judgment, but not reflective judgment, using a joint/separate evaluation paradigm. Experiment 2A demonstrates that effects of indirect agency cannot be fully explained by perceived lack of foreknowledge or control on the part of the primary agent. Experiment 2B indicates that reflective moral judgment is sensitive to indirect agency, but only to the extent that indirectness signals reduced foreknowledge and/or control. Experiment 3 indicates that effects of indirect agency result from a failure to automatically consider the potentially dubious motives of agents who cause harm indirectly. Experiment 4 demonstrates an effect of indirect agency on purchase intentions.

Keywords: ethics, indirect agency, moral psychology, decision-making

Suggested Citation

Paharia, Neeru and Kassam, Karim S. and Greene, Joshua D. and Bazerman, Max H., Dirty Work, Clean Hands: The Moral Psychology of Indirect Agency (January 12, 2009). Harvard Business School NOM Working Paper No. 09-012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1205304 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1205304

Neeru Paharia

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Karim S. Kassam

Harvard University - Department of Psychology ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Joshua D. Greene

Harvard University - Department of Psychology ( email )

33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Max H. Bazerman (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6429 (Phone)
617-496-4191 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mbazerman

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