Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wisdom and Ethics

The Wisdom of Many in One Mind: Improving Individual Judgments With
Dialectical Bootstrapping

Stefan Herzog & Ralph Hertwig
Psychological Science, February 2009, Pages 231-237

The "wisdom of crowds" in making judgments about the future or other unknown events is well established. The average quantitative estimate of a group of individuals is consistently more accurate than the typical estimate, and is sometimes even the best estimate. Although individuals' estimates may be riddled with errors, averaging them boosts accuracy because both systematic and random errors tend to cancel out across individuals. We propose exploiting the power of averaging to improve estimates generated by a single person by using an approach we call dialectical bootstrapping. Specifically, it should be possible to reduce a person's error by averaging his or her first estimate with a second one that harks back to somewhat different knowledge. We derive conditions under which dialectical bootstrapping fosters accuracy and provide an empirical demonstration that its benefits go
beyond reliability gains. A single mind can thus simulate the wisdom of many.


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

Francesca Gino, Don Moore & Max Bazerman Harvard Working Paper, April 2009

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.