Research Shows that Our Moral Standards Weaken When We Feel Financial Strain
NYU Stern Professor Adam Alter discusses implications for moral behavior in an environment of slow economic recovery
Those in the position to make powerful financial decisions might be swayed by their sense of financial comfort – and they are strikingly unaware of it.
Across one survey and five experiments, the authors find:
- People’s moral standards shift as their own financial status fluctuates.People who feel financially insecure tend to cheat more for financial gains, and judge other financially insecure people who cheat more leniently than do financially comfortable people.
- This apparent moral hypocrisy diminishes when it is clear that immoral conduct cannot alleviate financial imbalances, when financial deprivation seems fair or deserved, and when acting immorally seems unfair.
- People are generally unaware of their vulnerability to this behavioral inconsistency. However, based on their findings, the authors suggest that people may recognize their apparent hypocrisy after behaving immorally.
In the paper, Alter and his co-authors also consider the influence on corporate policy issues (e.g., unemployment packages) as well as fiscal policies (e.g., stimulus spending). “Those in the position to make powerful financial decisions might be swayed by their sense of financial comfort (and the financial comfort of those affected) – and they are strikingly unaware of it,” explains Alter.
The article, "Financial Deprivation Selectively Shifts Moral Standards and Compromises Moral Decisions," is forthcoming in the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
To speak with Professor Alter, please contact him directly at 212-998-0142 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact Carolyn Ritter in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs at 212-998-0624 or email@example.com.