The (In)Elasticity of Moral Ignorance
78 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 1, 2019
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
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