The impact of moral motives on economic decision-making
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.
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