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Diffusion of Being Pivotal and Immoral Outcomes

Diffusion of Being Pivotal and Immoral Outcomes

Armin Falk und Nora Szech

Datum: 2014

We study how diffusing being pivotal affects the willingness to support
immoral outcomes. Subjects decide about agreeing to kill mice and receiving money
versus objecting to kill mice and foregoing the monetary amount. We investigate an
exogenous diffusion of being pivotal imposed by organizational design as well as
self-imposed, endogenous diffusion of being pivotal. Regarding exogenous diffusion,
we compare two treatments. We keep overall financial incentives and overall payoff
consequences identical, yet vary the decision rule: In Baseline subjects decide
individually about the life of one mouse. In the Exogenous Diffusion treatment,
subjects are organized into groups of eight. Eight mice are killed if at least one subject
supports the killing. The fraction of subjects agreeing to kill is significantly higher in
Exogenous Diffusion than in Baseline. Moreover, in Exogenous Diffusion, the
likelihood to agree to the killing decreases in subjective perceptions of being pivotal.
We then show that many subjects actually have a preference to actively create a
situation where being pivotal is diffused. In the Endogenous Diffusion treatment, each
subject chooses the probability of killing a mouse. The monetary amount a subject
receives is proportional to the killing probability. More than 30 percent of subjects opt
for intermediate killing probabilities, thereby actively diffusing being pivotal at a
proportional reduction of money. Response times and feelings of remorse and bad
conscience suggest that it is in particular subjects experiencing moral conflict who
prefer diffusing being pivotal. Presumably, this serves as a means to keep a positive
self-image while behaving selfishly.