The Moral Psychology of Incidental Harm
To what extent are we willing to incidentally harm others as a side effect of pursuing our goals? What level of incidental harm do we consider acceptable? And what factors affect this determination? Several ongoing projects examine these questions, focusing on the role of several decision features, such as sunk costs and whether the decision is an initial decision (what to start) or a reassessment (whether to continue or switch from a chosen path). Two of these projects are summarized below.
Continuation Decisions and Moral Disengagement
To what extent are decision-makers willing to impose costs on others as they pursue their goals? The current investigation tested the hypothesis that the answer depends on whether the decision is an initial decision (what to start) or a reassessment (whether to continue or switch from a chosen path). Decision-makers should be more likely to experience moral disengagement—to perceive lower moral standards—when contemplating continuing an option relative to choosing that option initially. They will therefore be more willing to impose costs on others for the former than for the latter. In five experiments, which tested hypothetical decisions and real decisions with material stakes, participants were more likely to impose costs on others—and believed ignoring those costs would be more morally acceptable—if they were a side effect of continuation. These results indicate that the moral psychology of continuation is marked by moral disengagement.
current status: in press, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (link)