Ethical Decision Making Under Social Uncertainty: An Introduction of Überethicality

Sustainable Production and Consumption, 12, 78-89, 2017

36 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2011 Last revised: 2 Sep 2017

Julia M. Puaschunder

Harvard University; The New School for Social Research; Columbia University; Princeton University

Date Written: November 22, 2011


Decision making research has been revolutionized by prospect theory. In laboratory experiments, prospect theory captures human to code outcome perspectives as gains or losses relative to an individual reference point, by which decisions are anchored. Prospect theory’s core finding that monetary losses loom larger than gains has been generalized in many domains; yet not been tested for social status changes. Social status striving has been subject to social sciences’ research for a long time but until today we have no clear picture of how social status prospects relative to an individual reference point may influence our decision making and action. Understanding human cognition in the light of social status perspectives, however, could allow turning social status experiences into ethicality nudges. The perceived endowment through social status may drive social responsibility. Ethicality as a socially-appreciated, noble societal contribution offers the prospect of social status gains given the societal respect for altruism and pro-social acts. An Überethical filling of current legal gaps or outperforming legal regulations grant additional social status elevation opportunities. Building on prospect theory, two field observations of environmentally conscientious recycling behavior and sustainable energy consumption tested if social status losses are more likely to be answered with ethicality than social status gains. Social status losses are found as significant drivers of socially-responsible environmental conscientiousness. Testing prospect theory for social status striving advances socio-economics and helps understanding the underlying mechanisms of social identity theories. Pegging social status to ethicality is an unprecedented approach to use social forces as a means for accomplishing positive societal change. Future studies may target at elucidating if ethicality in the wake of social status losses is more a cognitive, rational strategy or emotional compensation for feelings of unworthiness after social status drops.

Suggested Citation

Puaschunder, Julia M., Ethical Decision Making Under Social Uncertainty: An Introduction of Überethicality (November 22, 2011). Sustainable Production and Consumption, 12, 78-89, 2017. Available at SSRN: or

Julia M. Puaschunder (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

24 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
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The New School for Social Research ( email )

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Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
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Princeton University ( email )

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Princeton, NJ 08544
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