Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2008

No harm, No Foul: The Outcome Bias in Ethical Judgments

by Francesca Gino, Don A. Moore and Max H. Bazerman

Abstract

We present six studies demonstrating that outcome information biases ethical judgments of others' ethically-questionable behaviors. In particular, we show that the same behaviors produce more ethical condemnation when they happen to produce bad rather than good outcomes, even if the outcomes are determined by chance. Our studies show that individuals judge behaviors as less ethical, more blameworthy, and punish them more harshly, when such behaviors led to undesirable consequences, even if they saw those behaviors as acceptable before they knew its consequences. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that a rational, analytic mindset can override the effects of one's intuitions in ethical judgments. Implications for both research and practice are discussed.

Keywords: Judgments; Ethics; Outcome or Result; Behavior; Prejudice and Bias;

Citation:

Gino, Francesca, Don A. Moore, and Max H. Bazerman. "No harm, No Foul: The Outcome Bias in Ethical Judgments." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 08-080, February 2008. (Revised July 2008, April 2009.)