Financial Deprivation Selectively Shifts Moral Standards and Compromises Moral Decisions

57 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2013

See all articles by Eesha Sharma

Eesha Sharma

Dartmouth College; Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business

Nina Mazar

Boston University - Questrom School of Business

Adam Alter

New York University (NYU) - Department of Marketing

Dan Ariely

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Date Written: September 10, 2013

Abstract

Previous research suggests people firmly value moral standards. However, research has also shown that various factors can compromise moral behavior. Inspired by the recent financial turmoil, we investigate whether financial deprivation might shift people’s moral standards and consequently compromise their moral decisions. Across one pilot survey and five experiments, we find that people believe financial deprivation should not excuse immoral conduct; yet when people actually experience deprivation they seem to apply their moral standards more leniently. Thus, people who feel deprived tend to cheat more for financial gains and judge deprived moral offenders who cheat for financial gains less harshly. These effects are mediated by shifts in people’s moral standards: beliefs in whether deprivation is an acceptable reason for immorality. The effect of deprivation on immoral conduct diminishes when it is explicit that immoral conduct cannot help alleviate imbalances in deprived actors’ financial states, when financial deprivation seems fair or deserved, and when acting immorally seems unfair.

Keywords: ethics, fairness, morality, dishonesty, cheating, lying, scarcity, judgment and decision making

Suggested Citation

Sharma, Eesha and Mazar, Nina and Alter, Adam and Ariely, Dan, Financial Deprivation Selectively Shifts Moral Standards and Compromises Moral Decisions (September 10, 2013). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, September 2013; Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2325954. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2325954

Eesha Sharma

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Nina Mazar (Contact Author)

Boston University - Questrom School of Business ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02215
United States

Adam Alter

New York University (NYU) - Department of Marketing ( email )

Henry Kaufman Ctr
44 W 4 St.
New York, NY
United States

Dan Ariely

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
(919) 381-4366 (Phone)

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