For those of us who study behavioral legal ethics, one of the most important and relevant psychological findings is known as “motivated reasoning,” which is the unconscious tendency we all possess to reason our way to conclusions we prefer (I have written about motivated reasoning in a number of articles, including here, here and here).
In a new and important article, Professor Francesca Gino and her colleagues lay out the foundations of motivated reasoning in the context of ethical decision-making. Entitled Motivated Bayesians: Feeling Moral While Acting Egoistically, the paper explains how people often prioritize self-interest at the expense of morality, all the while convincing themselves that they are acting ethically. As they note in the paper:
[P]eople who appear to exhibit a preference for being moral may in fact be placing a value on feeling moral, often accomplishing this goal by manipulating the manner in which they process information to justify taking egoistic actions while maintaining this feeling of morality.
The paper is chock full of experimental evidence that supports these conclusions and is highly recommended.
It is available as part of a symposium on motivated reasoning in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The paper starts on page 189 of the full symposium, which is available on Google Scholar (also recommended is the excellent introduction to the symposium by two notable experts, Nicholas Epley and Thomas Gilovich, which starts on page 133).