How People Judge Institutional Corruption

18 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021

See all articles by Elinor Amit

Elinor Amit

Harvard University - Department of Psychology; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Eugy Han

Stanford University - Department of Communication

Ann-Christin Posten

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Steven A. Sloman

Brown University

Date Written: February 2021

Abstract

Institutional corruption refers to actions that are legal yet carry negative consequences for the greater good. Such legal yet harmful behaviors have been observed among politicians and donors who establish quid-pro-quo relationships in exchange for money and among doctors who receive gifts from pharmaceutical companies in return for recommending the companies’ drugs. How does the general public reconcile the tension between the legal status of an action and its impact on the greater good and judge the action’s moral acceptability? We explored this question empirically by comparing the relative weight people give to the legal status of actions and to the impact of actions when judging moral acceptability. Results show that people unequivocally rely on legal status and ignore the impact of the actions. We conclude that people outsource their moral judgments to the law. The law does not simply reflect people’s sense of corruption but determines it. Together, our research suggests a surprising and ironic role for the law: that it diminishes independent, critical thinking.

Keywords: moral judgement, moral outsourcing, institutional corruption, law and morality, trust in institutions, ethics, morality

Suggested Citation

Amit, Elinor and Han, Eugy and Posten, Ann-Christin and Sloman, Steven A., How People Judge Institutional Corruption (February 2021). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 3, 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3808889

Elinor Amit

Harvard University - Department of Psychology ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Eugy Han (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Communication

Stanford, CA 94305-2050
United States

Ann-Christin Posten

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Steven A. Sloman

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

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