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Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Psychology of White-Collar Criminals

Eugene Soltes
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 14, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Usually, a gut feeling that something will be harmful is enough of a deterrence. But when the harm is distant or abstract, this internal alarm doesn’t always go off. This absence of intuition about the harm creates a particular challenge for executives. Today, managerial decisions impact ever-greater numbers of people and the distance between executives and the people their decisions affect continues to grow. In fact, many of the people most harmed or helped by executives’ decisions are those they will never identify or meet. In this less intimate world, age-old intuitions are not always well suited to sense the kinds of potential harms that people can cause in the business world.

Reflecting on these limits to human intuition, I came to a conclusion that I found humbling. Most people like to think that they have the right values to make it through difficult times without falling prey to the same failures as the convicted executives I got to know. But those who believe they would face the same situations with their current values and viewpoints tend to underestimate the influence of the pressures, cultures, and norms that surround executive decision making. Perhaps a little humility is in order, given that people seem to have some difficulty predicting how they’d act in that environment. “What we all think is, ‘When the big moral challenge comes, I will rise to the occasion,’ [but] there’s not actually that many of us that will actually rise to the occasion,” as one former CFO put it. “I didn’t realize I would be a felon.”

The article is here.