Saturday, November 5, 2022

Information avoidance: Our findings, together with additional survey evidence, suggest that behavioral biases inhibit the adoption of improved practices, and are consistent with inattention as a key driver of under-adoption

Why Businesses Fail: Underadoption of Improved Practices by Brazilian Micro-Enterprises. Priscila de Oliveira, Nov 2022.

Abstract: Micro firms in low and middle income countries often have low profitability and do not grow over time. Several business training programs have tried to improve management and business practices, with limited effects. We run a field experiment with micro-entrepreneurs in Brazil (N=742) to study the under-adoption of improved business practices, and shed light on the constraints and behavioral biases that may hinder their adoption. We randomly offer entrepreneurs reminders and micro-incentives of either 20 BRL (4 USD) or 40 BRL (8 USD) to implement record keeping or marketing for three consecutive months, following a business training program. Compared to traditional business training, reminders and micro-incentives significantly increase adoption of marketing (13.2 p.p.) and record keeping (19.2 p.p.), with positive effects on firm survival and investment over four months. Our findings, together with additional survey evidence, suggest that behavioral biases inhibit the adoption of improved practices, and are consistent with inattention as a key driver of under-adoption. In addition, our survey evidence on information avoidance points to it as a limiting factor to the adoption of record keeping, but not marketing activities. Taken together, the results suggest that behavioral biases affect firm decisions, with significant impact on firm survival.

Despite the popularity of growth mindset interventions in schools, positive results are rare and possibly spurious due to inadequately designed interventions, reporting flaws, and bias

Macnamara, B. N., & Burgoyne, A. P. (2022). Do growth mindset interventions impact students’ academic achievement? A systematic review and meta-analysis with recommendations for best practices. Psychological Bulletin, Nov 2022.

Abstract: According to mindset theory, students who believe their personal characteristics can change—that is, those who hold a growth mindset—will achieve more than students who believe their characteristics are fixed. Proponents of the theory have developed interventions to influence students’ mindsets, claiming that these interventions lead to large gains in academic achievement. Despite their popularity, the evidence for growth mindset intervention benefits has not been systematically evaluated considering both the quantity and quality of the evidence. Here, we provide such a review by (a) evaluating empirical studies’ adherence to a set of best practices essential for drawing causal conclusions and (b) conducting three meta-analyses. When examining all studies (63 studies, N = 97,672), we found major shortcomings in study design, analysis, and reporting, and suggestions of researcher and publication bias: Authors with a financial incentive to report positive findings published significantly larger effects than authors without this incentive. Across all studies, we observed a small overall effect: d¯ = 0.05, 95% CI = [0.02, 0.09], which was nonsignificant after correcting for potential publication bias. No theoretically meaningful moderators were significant. When examining only studies demonstrating the intervention influenced students’ mindsets as intended (13 studies, N = 18,355), the effect was nonsignificant: d¯ = 0.04, 95% CI = [−0.01, 0.10]. When examining the highest-quality evidence (6 studies, N = 13,571), the effect was nonsignificant: d¯ = 0.02, 95% CI = [−0.06, 0.10]. We conclude that apparent effects of growth mindset interventions on academic achievement are likely attributable to inadequate study design, reporting flaws, and bias.

Impact Statement: This systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that, despite the popularity of growth mindset interventions in schools, positive results are rare and possibly spurious due to inadequately designed interventions, reporting flaws, and bias.

Those who self-report a strong moral character have a tendency to hypocrisy

Being good to look good: Self-reported moral character predicts moral double standards among reputation-seeking individuals. Mengchen Dong,Tom R. Kupfer,Shuai Yuan,Jan-Willem van Prooijen. British Journal of Psychology, November 4 2022.

Abstract: Moral character is widely expected to lead to moral judgements and practices. However, such expectations are often breached, especially when moral character is measured by self-report. We propose that because self-reported moral character partly reflects a desire to appear good, people who self-report a strong moral character will show moral harshness towards others and downplay their own transgressions—that is, they will show greater moral hypocrisy. This self-other discrepancy in moral judgements should be pronounced among individuals who are particularly motivated by reputation. Employing diverse methods including large-scale multination panel data (N = 34,323), and vignette and behavioural experiments (N = 700), four studies supported our proposition, showing that various indicators of moral character (Benevolence and Universalism values, justice sensitivity, and moral identity) predicted harsher judgements of others' more than own transgressions. Moreover, these double standards emerged particularly among individuals possessing strong reputation management motives. The findings highlight how reputational concerns moderate the link between moral character and moral judgement.

Practitioner points

- Self-reported moral character does not predict actual moral performance well.

- Good moral character based on self-report can sometimes predict strong moral hypocrisy.

- Good moral character based on self-report indicates high moral standards, while only for others but not necessarily for the self.

- Hypocrites can be good at detecting reputational cues and presenting themselves as morally decent persons.


A well-known Golden Rule of morality is to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself (Singer, 1963). People with a strong moral character might be expected to follow this Golden Rule, and judge others no more harshly than they judge themselves. However, when moral character is measured by self-reports, it is often intertwined with socially desirable responding and reputation management motives (Anglim et al., 2017; Hertz & Krettenauer, 2016; Reed & Aquino, 2003). The current research examines the potential downstream effects of moral character and reputation management motives on moral decisions. By attempting to differentiate the ‘genuine’ and ‘reputation managing’ components of self-reported moral character, we posited an association between moral character and moral double standards on the self and others. Imposing harsh moral standards on oneself often comes with a cost to self-interest; to signal one's moral character, criticizing others' transgressions can be a relatively cost-effective approach (Jordan et al., 2017; Kupfer & Giner-Sorolla, 2017; Simpson et al., 2013). To the extent that the demonstration of a strong moral character is driven by reputation management motives, we, therefore, predicted that it would be related to increased hypocrisy, that is, harsher judgements of others' transgressions but not stricter standards for own misdeeds.

Across four studies varying from civic transgressions (Study 1), organizational misconducts (Study 2), to selfish decisions in economic games (Study 3 and the Pilot Study in the SM), we found consistent evidence that people reporting a strong (vs. weak) moral character were more likely to judge others' misdeeds harshly, especially for those highly motivated by reputation. This amplified moral harshness towards others was sometimes also accompanied with increased moral leniency towards the self (Study 3 and the Pilot Study in the SM). Taken together, self-reported moral character relates to differential moral standards on the self versus others, which was especially true for reputation-motivated individuals.

Although Study 1 only provided circumstantial evidence by interpreting moral judgements without specific targets and self-reported transgressive frequencies as a proxy of the ‘reputation managing’ component of self-reported moral character, we have good reasons to believe that these interpretations are legitimate. First, people often apply general moral rules to judgements of others instead of themselves (Dong et al., 2021). Second, self-reported moral performance is often influenced by strategic self-presentation (Dong et al., 2019; Shaw et al., 2014). As shown in our studies, people high (vs. low) on moral character reported fewer own transgressions (Study 1) when highly (vs. weakly) motivated by reputation management. However, they did not act more or less selfishly (Study 3).

Furthermore, Studies 2 and 3 consolidated our proposition by showing a significant interaction between moral character and target of moral judgements (i.e. self vs. other), only for people with high but not low reputation management motives. These findings were replicated across a variety of individual difference measures of moral character (including Benevolence and Universalism values, justice sensitivity, and moral identity) and reputation management motives (including Power and Achievement values, self-monitoring of socially desirable behaviours, and concern about social esteem and status), and emerged only when moral judgements had a salient influence on people's reputation (e.g. when the appraised behaviour was unfavourable rather than favourable in Study 3).

Theoretical contributions

The current findings contribute to the literature on both moral character and reputation management. Previous theorizing generally implies that moral character is genuinely and unconditionally good (Aquino & Reed, 2002; Kamtekar, 2004; Walker et al., 1987; Walker & Frimer, 2007). Consistent with this ‘genuine’ perspective on moral character, we found positive correlations of moral character with stringent moral judgements (Studies 1 and 3) and a high likelihood to behave morally (Study 3), although the relation between inherent moral character and actual moral deeds may be obscured by the presence of external sanctions (e.g. third-party punishment in the Pilot Study in the SM). More importantly, we complement previous studies on moral character by making two novel contributions.

First, the present studies suggest that there are both ‘genuine’ and ‘reputation managing’ components of self-reported moral character. Although this idea was implied in many previous studies (e.g. Anglim et al., 2017; Brick et al., 2017; Dong et al., 2019; Hertz & Krettenauer, 2016; Shaw et al., 2014), our work empirically demonstrates that people who report a strong moral character can be sensitive to moral contexts, and strategically tailor their moral performances accordingly. In particular, people may apply flexible moral standards consistent with reputation management goals, and display more moral harshness towards others than towards themselves. The findings accord with perspectives that emphasize the prominent role of reputation management in moral psychology (e.g. Jordan et al., 2016; Vonasch et al., 2018), including phenomena such as moral licencing (Blanken et al., 2015) and moral contagion (Kupfer & Giner-Sorolla, 2021).

Second, our work illuminates how exactly reputation management motives moderate the link between self-reported moral character and moral decisions. Beyond previous research suggesting to control for, or eliminate, reputation concerns in moral character measurements (Lee et al., 2008; Paulhus, 1984), these studies demonstrated when, and for whom, moral character precisely predicts moral decisions. When individuals had low reputation management motives, their moral character predicted moral judgements of their own more than others' misdeeds; in contrast, when people were highly motivated to gain a good reputation, moral character only predicted their moral harshness towards others but failed to predict moral decisions for themselves (Study 3 and the Pilot Study in the SM). With the increase of reputation management motives, people who reported a strong (vs. weak) moral character either showed increased hypocrisy by judging others more harshly than themselves (Studies 2 and 3), or showed reduced ‘hypercrisy’ (Lammers, 2012) by judging themselves less harshly than others (the Pilot Study in the SM). Although the specific manifestations of moral double standards varied from moral harshness towards others to moral leniency towards oneself, or both, our findings add more insight to discussions about the effectiveness of moral character measures, by suggesting the importance of taking into account reputation management motives and moral target (e.g. self or others).

Limitations and future directions

We employed diverse samples and methods to test the reputation management account of moral character; however, at least two important limitations should be noted, respectively, related to the self-reported nature of our moral character and reputation management motives measures.

First, although our findings showed a positive relationship between moral character and moral double standards, we may not fully differentiate the ‘genuine’ and ‘reputation managing’ parts of self-reported moral character. People may also internalize reputation management as an integral part of ‘genuine’ moral character. 1 In this case, moral character can facilitate socially desirable reactions in a prompt and heuristic way, and better serve the goal to appear moral to others (Everett et al., 2016; Hardy & Van Vugt, 2006; Jordan et al., 2016; Jordan & Rand, 2020). This theorizing implies that self-reported moral character can be strongly and positively correlated with reputation management motives. However, the hypothesized interaction effect between moral character and reputation management motives on moral double standards replicated, regardless of their different correlations across studies (positive and significant in Studies 1 and 3, non-significant in Study 2, and negative and significant in the Pilot Study in the SM; see Table S6 for specifics). To more formally differentiate the roles of actual and postured moral character in behavioural hypocrisy, future research may integrate self- with other-reports of moral character.

Second, we examined reputation management motives as an individual difference variable, and did not manipulate reputation incentives to show its causal effects. As such, self-reported reputation management motives could be influenced by concerns about social approval. For example, some research suggests that people may under-report their actual reputation management motives because pursuing good reputation and high status can be stigmatized (Kim & Pettit, 2015). People may either over- or under-report their reputation management motives, depending on their perception of the motives as socially approved or disapproved.

Relatedly, our findings do not directly elucidate whether people who display moral double standards (1) genuinely believe such behaviours as morally acceptable, or (2) consciously use them as a reputation management strategy. For example, although high moral character and reputation management motives were associated with stringent moral standards on others across our studies, their relation with lenient moral standards on the self seemed to only apply to moral judgements but not to actual behaviours (Study 3 and its Pilot Study in the SM). The extent to which self-reported moral behaviours reflected actual behaviours or its strategic self-presentation was also unverifiable (Study 1). However, comparisons between different studies may provide tentative evidence on people's conscious and strategic display of moral double standards as a reputation management strategy. People who self-reported high (vs. low) moral character and reputation management motives judged themselves more leniently only in relatively anonymous settings (Study 2) but no more leniently with the presence of a third-party interviewer (Study 1) or observer (Study 3 and its Pilot Study in the SM). Future research may explore the mechanisms of moral double standards in different reputation contexts, and examine moral character and reputation management motives as antecedents to behavioural forms of moral hypocrisy (e.g. saying one thing and doing another; Dong et al., 2019; Effron et al., 2018).