Chapter | The Interplay of Truth and Deception | 2008

I Read Playboy for the Articles: Justifying and Rationalizing Questionable Preferences

by Zoe Chance and Michael I. Norton


When people behave in ways that might appear selfish, prejudiced or perverted, they engage in a host of strategies designed to justify questionable behavior with rational excuses: “I hired my son because he's more qualified”; “I promoted Ashley because she does a better job than Aisha”; or, in the example from our title, “I read Playboy for the articles.” In this chapter, we first describe two means by which individuals rationalize and justify questionable behavior. First, we focus on preemptive actions people take before engaging in such behavior. Second, we focus on concurrent strategies, examining how people restructure situations such that their behavior seems less questionable—including an experiment in which people justify their suspect magazine preferences. We conclude by briefly reviewing two additional strategies for coping with such difficult situations: forgoing making decisions and forgetting those decisions altogether.

Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Ethics; Behavior; Strategy;


Chance, Zoe, and Michael I. Norton. "I Read Playboy for the Articles: Justifying and Rationalizing Questionable Preferences." In The Interplay of Truth and Deception, edited by M. S. McGlone and M. L. Knapp. Routledge, 2008.