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The (In)Elasticity of Moral Ignorance


Ignorance enables individuals to act immorally. This is well known in policy circles, in which there is keen interest in lowering moral ignorance. In this paper, we study how the demand for moral ignorance responds to monetary incentives and how the demand curve for ignorance reacts to social norm messages. We propose a simple behavioral model in which individuals suffer moral costs when behaving selfishly in the face of moral information. In several experiments, we find that moral ignorance decreases by more than 30 percentage points with small monetary incentives, but we find no significant change with social norm messages, and we document strong persistence of ignorance across moral contexts. Our findings indicate that rather simple messaging interventions may have limited effects on ignorance. In contrast, changes in incentives could be highly effective. This paper was accepted by Yan Chen, behavioral economics and decision analysis.

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