“I read Playboy for the articles”: Justifying and Rationalizing Questionable Preferences

by Zoë Chance & Michael I. Norton

Overview — We want others to find us good, fair, responsible and logical; and we place even more importance on thinking of ourselves this way. Therefore, when people behave in ways that might appear selfish, prejudiced, or perverted, they tend to engage a host of strategies designed to justify questionable behavior with rational excuses: "I hired my son because he's more qualified." "I promoted Ashley because she does a better job than Aisha." Or, "I read Playboy for the articles." In this chapter from a forthcoming book, HBS doctoral student Zoë Chance and professor Michael I. Norton describe various means of coping with one's own questionable behavior: through preemptive actions and concurrent strategies for re-framing uncomfortable situations, forgoing decisions, and forgetting those decisions altogether. Key concepts include:

  • Because people do not want to be perceived as (or feel) unethical or immoral, they make excuses for their shameful behavior—even to themselves.
  • People cope with their own questionable actions in a number of ways, from forgoing certain experiences to rationalizing, justifying, and forgetting—a remarkable range of strategies allowing them to maintain a clear conscience even under dubious circumstances.

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An abstract is unavailable at this time. 23 pages

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