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The impact of moral motives on economic decision-making

  • Katharina G. Kugler (Author)
    LMU Muenchen

    Dr. Katharina G. Kugler is postdoctoral scientific staff member and lecturer of Economic and Organisational Psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen, Munich. Her research foci are team adaptation and effectiveness, conflict management, and economic decision-making.

  • Julia Reif (Author)
    LMU Muenchen
  • Gesa-Kristina Petersen (Author)
  • Felix C. Brodbeck (Author)

    Prof. Dr. Felix C. Brodbeck is Chair of Economic and Organisational Psychology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen, Munich. His research interests include leadership and teamwork in organizations, economic decision-making, and cross-cultural psychology.

Identifiers (Article)


We examined the question of how “salient others” (i.e., social situations) influence economic decisions. We proposed that moral motives (which are mechanisms for relationship regulation) actively shape economic decisions in social situations. In an experiment (N = 94), we varied the decision situation (anonymous social one-shot interaction vs. non-anonymous social ongoing interaction vs. anonymous non-social one-shot interaction) and the moral motive (unity vs. proportionality). As hypothesized, moral motives influenced decision behavior only in social situations but not in non-social situations. In addition, we showed that in anonymous social one-shot situations (which are common situations for economic decisions), individuals are susceptible to situational moral motive framing (i.e., cues in the task description). In contrast, situational cues were ineffective if a moral motive was already established in the relationship between interacting partners. The results showed that moral motives matter in economic decision-making and that people infer information about morally “appropriate” behavior in anonymous social interactions from moral cues provided by the situation. The presented research offers a psychological explanation for why individuals make different decisions in economic decision situations depending on the social situation.



Published (Versions)

Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Psychology, Behavioral Economics
economic decisions, moral motives, tacit coordination, decision design