The (In)Elasticity of Moral Ignorance

72 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2020

See all articles by Marta Serra-Garcia

Marta Serra-Garcia

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

Nora Szech

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Date Written: August 1, 2019

Abstract

Ignorance enables individuals to act immorally. This is well known in policy circles, where there is keen interest in lowering moral ignorance. In this paper, we study the (in)elasticity of moral ignorance, with respect to monetary incentives, social norms messages and moral context. We propose a simple behavioral model in which individuals suffer moral costs when behaving selfishly in the face of moral information. In several experiments, we find that moral ignorance is strongly elastic with respect to monetary incentives, yet rather inelastic with respect to social norms and moral context. Consistent with the model, there are heterogeneous effects of social norms, depending on subjects’ level of altruism. These findings indicate that rather simple messaging interventions may have limited effects on ignorance, while costlier changes in incentives or team composition could be highly effective.

Keywords: information avoidance, morality, unethical behavior, social norms

JEL Classification: D830, D910, C910

Suggested Citation

Serra-Garcia, Marta and Szech, Nora, The (In)Elasticity of Moral Ignorance (August 1, 2019). CESifo Working Paper No. 7555, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3357132

Marta Serra-Garcia (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Rady School of Management
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

Nora Szech

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ( email )

Kaiserstraße 12
Karlsruhe, Baden Württemberg 76131
Germany

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