Title: The optics of moral behavior
Moral decisions are complex. They require individuals to make tradeoffs between different moral principles (e.g., equity, honesty, prosociality), and to also weigh their selfish interests. To make things even more complicated, people also care about their public appearance. They wish to appear generous, fair, and honest, and want others to judge their actions as good and moral. In this talk, I will present findings from three lines of research, looking at (1) how concern with moral judgment affects moral behavior; and (2) how moral decisions are actually judged by others. In the first line of research (Shaw, Choshen-Hillel, & Caruso, 2018), we demonstrate that under some circumstances (which I will delineate in the talk), decision makers may actually bias against their friends, in order to appear unbiased. In a second line of research, I show that people may sometimes lie to appear honest. In the final line of research (Bigman, Choshen-Hillel, & Gray, in preparation), I argue that observers are more likely to judge morally questionable decisions positively, when the agent has made a personal sacrifice. The studies use experimental scenarios as well as incentivized lab studies. I discuss the findings in relation to psychological theories on reputation and ethical behavior, and suggest practical implications for individuals and organizations.