How does cognitive dissonance affect ethical decision-making?

Cognitive dissonance theory holds that when we experience cognitive, dissonance, or moral distress, we tend to justify our behavior. Cognitive dissonance is the unpleasant emotion that results from having two contradictory beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors at the same time. The study of cognitive dissonance is one of the most popular fields in social psychology. The inability to resolve cognitive dissonance can lead to irrational decision-making, as a person contradicts themselves in their beliefs or actions.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress that people feel when they have two conflicting ideas in their minds at the same time. When ideas have ethical dimensions, this discomfort is called moral dissonance. Most people consider themselves ethical. However, studies show that most people also often lie and cheat in ways they wouldn't want others to know or see.

This conflict between their moral self-image and their immoral actions creates cognitive dissonance and most people (consciously or unconsciously) want to resolve this psychological discomfort. However, in general terms, the degree of cognitive dissonance experienced by managers was significantly affected mainly by their moral development. For example, an environmental defender who believes in the danger of anthropogenic climate change, but who travels the world in a private jet, may experience cognitive dissonance when pointed out to the disproportionately high carbon emissions it generates. You can resolve this cognitive dissonance by changing your belief in climate change, by adding a new belief that you are more important than other people in some way and that this justifies your enormous carbon footprint, or by deciding that the danger of climate change is simply not that important to you.

A study suggests that the observation that people don't always consider sunk costs irrelevant to marginal decisions, at least in part, is due to cognitive dissonance. The investor immediately thinks about the pattern of not selling in May and begins to feel anxiety related to cognitive dissonance due to the conflict between their previous belief and the advice of their trusted broker. People can resolve cognitive dissonance by changing their existing beliefs, adding new beliefs, or reducing the importance of beliefs. When a situation causes a person to become aware of their conflicting beliefs, cognitive dissonance occurs that creates a sense of uneasiness.

This article studies the cognitive dissonance that managers experience after making ethical business judgments. The process of resolving cognitive dissonance by changing beliefs or behaviors is an important topic of study in psychology as a means to achieve personal and social change. It is hypothesized that the degree of cognitive dissonance that managers experience after making a judgment on business ethics depends on (the nature of the judgment (ethical or unethical); (the magnitude of the personal benefits that the situation entails); and (the moral development of managers). After the judgment was made, the cognitive dissonance and moral development of the participants were measured.

Hilary Gibbons
Hilary Gibbons

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