Political Economy

Competing Image Concerns: Pleasures of Skill and Moral Values

  • Author:

    Armin Falk and Nora Szech

  • Date: October 2020
  • We study how two competing sources of positive image – the desire to appear skillful vs. moral – affect moral decision making. In four experimental conditions we vary the perceived importance of skill as well as moral relevance. In all conditions, participants completed an IQ test. To vary perceived importance of the skill motive, we either framed the IQ test as an "IQ test", or as a simple "questionnaire", respectively. Variation in moral consequences was implemented in adding negative externalities in response to correctly answered questions. Our results show that adding moral consequences decreases the number of correctly answered questions, relative to the morally neutral conditions, revealing that participants care for a positive moral image. Importantly, however, moral outcomes are significantly less likely when the test is framed as an IQ-test relative to the questionnaire framing. Our findings show that the pursuit of pleasures of skill can causally reduce moral behavior.