Moral choice when harming is unavoidable

Berman, J Z and Kupor, D (2020) Moral choice when harming is unavoidable. Psychological Science, 31 (10). pp. 1294-1301. ISSN 0956-7976 OPEN ACCESS


Past research suggests that actors seek to minimize harm often at the cost of maximizing social welfare. However, this prior research has confounded a desire to minimize the negative impact caused by one’s actions (harm aversion) with a desire to avoid causing any harm whatsoever (harm avoidance). Across six studies (N = 2,152), we demonstrate that these two motives are distinct. Specifically, we find that when decision-makers can completely avoid committing a harmful act they strongly prefer to do so. However, harming often cannot be avoided, and decision-makers must choose between committing less harm for less benefit or committing more harm for more benefit. In these cases, harm aversion diminishes substantially, and decision-makers become increasingly willing to commit greater harm to obtain greater benefits. Thus, value-tradeoffs that decision-makers refuse to accept when it is possible to completely avoid committing harm can suddenly become desirable when some harm must be committed.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Marketing
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© 2020 Association for Psychological Science. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications

Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2020 09:22
Date of first compliant deposit: 15 May 2020
Subjects: Choice
Value analysis
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2024 01:45
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