Would you consider yourself immoral

Moral Dilemma: Why We Make Immoral Decisions

When looking at today's large companies, it is difficult to take terms such as “morals” and “ethical standards” seriously. But in fact it is stated in almost every contract that the decisions should correspond to the "highest ethical standards". But then why do so many people make immoral decisions in their job?

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1. Intuition or rational thinking?
2. We have forgotten to listen to our “instincts”
3. The fear of loss
4. Make decisions - for yourself or for others?
5. Long-term decisions and unwanted dangers
6. Morality depends on the situation
7. Are you lying to yourself?
8 There are too many bad examples
9. Can immoral decisions be avoided?

Intuition or rational thinking?

Everyone knows the battle between head and gut: Should you trust your rational thinking or make a spontaneous decision based on gut feeling? Indeed, there are many examples that an intuitive decision is in no way worse than a conscious decision of the mind - they just run much faster.

"Intuition is intelligence with excessive speed."
(Italian proverb)

For example, psychologist Sian Leah Beilock, who teaches at the University of Chicago, conducted a simple series of experiments with golfers and found that professional golfers get better results if they don't have time to think about their shot, while beginners tend to take more time should in order to create the best possible shot. The bottom line is that Intuition draws on your experience and can make the right decision within a very short time - However, the relevant experience must first be available.

We have forgotten to listen to our “instincts”

Another experiment related to the topic was carried out by Antonio Damasio: The American is a neurologist, works at the University of Iowa and carried out first experiments in this area as early as the 1990s. In his series of experiments, he connected the test subjects to a special variant of the lie detector and gave them two prepared decks of cards, the first deck being intended to yield big winnings, while the small one only attracted smaller winnings. For both stacks of cards, the red cards resulted in fines. The trick behind this system: The first pile had a lot more penalty cards, while the second pile turned out to be more rewarding in the long run. Most of the test subjects realized this after around 50 cards, but the main attraction of the test series is that instinct had already warned about the first pile after ten cards.

"It's better not to persuade your instincts."
(Erich Limpach)

These experiments show that the instinctive thought is often the right one, but we are often taught that it is better to think everything through first. This leads to the fact that a topic is "reconsidered" and then one's own train of thought leads to a wrong decision - although intuition had suggested the opposite. In the working world in particular, many people simply do not dare to listen to their own gut instinct and prefer to make the decision that would appear to be better for the company - even if it is immoral.

The fear of loss

From a psychological point of view, they often worry irrational fear of loss for people to make immoral or unwise decisions. Because with every decision you make, you also completely rule out other options:

  1. When buying a new car, you decide against other models that might have brought you more comfort and fun.
  2. If you go to eat in a certain restaurant, you decide on one dish, while another restaurant might also have delicious menus on offer.
  3. Choosing a partner for your life will exclude other people you might have been happier with.

In many cases these fears of loss run subconsciously and are differently pronounced, but in many cases the loss is in the foreground, while the joy of the choice takes a back seat. The fear of potential loss then often ensures that bad decisions are made, which promise a reward in the short term, but have negative consequences in the long term - this is why some people cheat on their partner or gloss over the numbers at work.

Make decisions - for yourself or for others?

It is no psychological secret that people make different decisions for themselves than they do for others. The fear of loss mentioned and the emotional component are much lower if a decision does not have to be made for yourself while the willingness to take risks increases.

Reading tip: "Who dares wins - from risk taker to high-flyer"

This was already proven by Mihai Avram, a psychologist at the University of Munich, in a study in 2014: If an ethical decision has to be made, different regions of the brain are affected depending on the situation. If the judgment affects your own person, more emotional regions are activated, However, those who are less affected when the decision is made about others - this leads to far more pragmatic and morally questionable judgments.

"People who behave ethically are happier than those who don't."
(Dalai Lama)

But in fact, arguments can also be found that unethical decisions are made for emotional reasons - especially when they affect other people. Everyone knows the phenomenon that one's own moral boundaries become blurred when it comes to the partner or the children - this is deeply anchored in our subconscious, not least because of the basic instinct of species conservation. But even in everyday professional life there are always people who, for example, gloss over current figures or make immoral decisions in order to save the workforce. This is where the wrong decisions are being made for the right reasons.

Long-term decisions and unwanted dangers

The dilemma of long-term decisions is omnipresent and examples can be found in every phase of life: You have to decide on a career choice at a young age, find an apprenticeship and establish yourself in a professional field - but whether this is a satisfactory choice will be You only realize it after years or even decades. Even when investing money or even buying a new car, it is always difficult to know in advance whether the right choice has been made. It is precisely with such decisions that many people have a problem and it is not for nothing that the famous saying goes

"Better the sparrow in hand than the pigeon on the roof"

to many situations. Compromises are often made, one compromise quickly leads to the next and you are already on an unwanted odyssey from which you may not find your way out and which forces you to make decisions that you would otherwise never make. However, there are a few tricks you can use to avoid these problems:

  • Take a short break: Before making a decision, take a short break and consider whether you are currently acting nearsighted. Reduce the stress that makes you decide. This is also a great way to keep yourself away from craving for an instant reward.
  • Rethink the compromise: Make it clear to yourself that you are about to compromise and are thus deviating from your actual path. You rarely become immediately aware that the compromise also brings immoral or bad aspects with it, as you often want to choose the "lesser evil". But it is not uncommon for there to be other options.
  • Hide disruptive factors: In many cases, stress and a lack of information are the reason why you make judgments that you would otherwise never have made. Try to calm down and collect all relevant information first.
  • Change perspective: Try to break away from your own point of view and look at the decision to be made from a different angle. Often times, it becomes so clear to you that while you had good intentions, the outcome could be negative.

While these tips sound pretty mundane in theory, once you've tried them in practice, you'll quickly find that they are indeed highly effective.

Morality depends on the situation

One of the most modern moral mind games concerns a driverless, deserted train racing towards another train with five people on it. However, you have the option of diverting the driverless train to another platform on which a third train is standing - there is only one person sitting on it. How would you choose? This fundamental question is already as old as humanity and weighs human lives against one another: At what amount is it morally justifiable to sacrifice people in order to save more people? The above question was asked by Professor Marc Hauser at the prestigious Harvard University and 80 percent of respondents answered that one person should be sacrificed to save five people.

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Now a second mind game: The same train races towards the second train with five passengers, but this time there is no third train and no change of track. Instead, just a fat man standing by the platform who would stop the train in time if you tossed him in front of the train. This scenario has been interpreted as immoral by most of the people.

Professor Hauser concludes that active action is considered immoral, while passive action is acceptable to most people - although the end result remains the same.

This fact can be transferred to everyday life and explains why ethically questionable decisions are made by people who actually have a moral idea: Depending on the situation, it was not even clear to the decision-makers that they had just made a rather immoral judgment.

Are you lying to yourself?

We all make decisions that we are not necessarily happy with or that we are even ashamed of. One of the greatest psychological phenomena, however, is that we still defend our wrong decisions - not only in front of others, but usually also in front of ourselves. In doing so, we often know consciously or subconsciously that we made an immoral and wrong decision, but persuade ourselves that we did it for the right reasons.

"It is more difficult to deceive yourself than others."
(Anatole France)

However, self-deception and self-righteousness are dangerous means and whoever has once started to adjust reality so that it satisfies one's own wishes, rarely stops.

Reading tip: "Self-lie: Why we love to lie to ourselves"

This quickly creates a vicious circle of dwindling morals and decisions that you would never have believed yourself capable of a short time ago.


You can find more statistics at Statista

The so-called also belong in this category Decision paralysis, which leads to the fact that we either cannot decide at all or stick to a decision - even if it is wrong. This phenomenon was already demonstrated in 1989 by the American ecologist Jack Netsch in his famous mug experiment: He gave all the students in his course a coffee mug and shortly afterwards asked them if they would like to exchange the mug for a chocolate bar. 90 percent of those surveyed preferred to stick with their mug. He first gave the next course the chocolate bar and then asked to swap it for a coffee mug - and here, too, 90 percent preferred to stick with the candy.

There are too many bad examples

Leaders should set a shining example and make moral decisions. This applies to both the business sector and the political level. Often, however, this actually creates unwanted bad role models that have a lasting effect.

An example: The supervisor checks the current figures together with an employee and crosses out some negative points in order not to make the balance sheet too negative.

This little “glossing over” may be a common method or is necessary for various reasons, but it conveys a wrong (model) image. The employee now assumes that it is okay to make minor changes and at some point passes this information on to his colleagues or employees. This creates a chain of morally questionable decisions.

Reading tip: "Cabinet of horrors in the office: is your boss a psychopath?"

Can immoral decisions be avoided?

Ultimately, there are many and actually understandable reasons why good people make unethical decisions. Be it to protect yourself or others, or because human psychology has its peculiarities.

"The way to the hell is paved with good intentions"

, wrote the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, pointing to exactly the problem: No matter how good the reason is, a decision that is contrary to one's own or general morality will always end badly. The question arises whether this human phenomenon is avoidable and whether we shouldn't expect higher ethical standards from our political and professional leaders ?!

What do you think? What moral or immoral decisions are made in your professional environment, perhaps even by yourself? In your opinion, what reasons justify immoral decisions? Discuss in the comments!

Photo credit: iStock.com/RapidEye

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