"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can." - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On the misguided pursuit of happiness and ethical decision making: The roles of focalism and the impact bias in unethical and selfish behavior

Laura J. Noval
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume 133, March 2016, Pages 1–16


An important body of research in the field of behavioral ethics argues that individuals behave unethically and selfishly because they want to obtain desired outcomes, such as career advancement and monetary rewards. Concurrently, a large body of literature in social psychology has shown that the subjective value of an outcome is determined by its anticipated emotional impact. Such impact has been consistently found to be overestimated both in its intensity and in its duration (i.e. impact bias) due to focalism (i.e. excessive focus on the desired outcome). Across four empirical studies, this investigation demonstrates that reducing focalism and thereby attenuating the impact bias in regards to desired outcomes decreases people’s tendency to engage in both unethical and selfish behavior to obtain those outcomes.


• Individuals engage in unethical and selfish behavior to obtain desired outcomes, such as monetary or career rewards.
• The anticipated emotional impact of the outcomes individuals seek to obtain is overestimated (i.e. impact bias).
• The impact bias results from focalism (i.e. excessive focus on an outcome).
• In four studies, focalism and the impact bias about desired outcomes were experimentally reduced.
• The focalism reduction resulted in a decreased tendency of individuals to engage in unethical and selfish behavior.

The article is here.
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