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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Does observability amplify sensitivity to moral frames? Evaluating a reputation-based account of moral preferences

Capraro, V., Jordan, J., & Tappin, B. M. 
(2020, April 9). 


A growing body of work suggests that people are sensitive to moral framing in economic games involving prosociality, suggesting that people hold moral preferences for doing the “right thing”. What gives rise to these preferences? Here, we evaluate the explanatory power of a reputation-based account, which proposes that people respond to moral frames because they are motivated to look good in the eyes of others. Across four pre-registered experiments (total N = 9,601), we investigated whether reputational incentives amplify sensitivity to framing effects. Studies 1-3 manipulated (i) whether moral or neutral framing was used to describe a Trade-Off Game (in which participants chose between prioritizing equality or efficiency) and (ii) whether Trade-Off Game choices were observable to a social partner in a subsequent Trust Game. These studies found that observability does not significantly amplify sensitivity to moral framing. Study 4 ruled out the alternative explanation that the observability manipulation from Studies 1-3 is too weak to influence behavior. In Study 4, the same observability manipulation did significantly amplify sensitivity to normative information (about what others see as moral in the Trade-Off Game). Together, these results suggest that moral frames may tap into moral preferences that are relatively deeply internalized, such that the power of moral frames is not strongly enhanced by making the morally-framed behavior observable to others.

From the Discussion

Our results have implications for interventions that draw on moral framing effects to encourage socially desirable behavior. They suggest that such interventions can be successful even when behavior is not observable to others and thus reputation is not at stake—and in fact, that the efficacy of moral framing effects is not strongly enhanced by making behavior observable. Thus, our results suggest that targeting contexts where reputation is at stake is not an especially important priority for individuals seeking to maximize the impact of interventions based on moral framing.  This  conclusion  provides  an  optimistic  view  of  the  potential  of such interventions, given that there may be many contexts in which it is difficult to make behavior observable but yet possible to frame a decision in a way that encourages prosociality—for example, when  crowdsourcing  donations  anonymously(or  nearly  anonymously)on  the Internet.Future research should investigate the power of moral framing to promote prosocial behaviour in anonymous contexts outside of the laboratory.