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Just think about it? Cognitive complexity and moral choice


Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Moore C;Tenbrunsel A E

Publication Year



In this paper, we question the simplicity of the common prescription that more thinking leads to better moral choices. In three studies, we discover that the relationship between how complexly one reasons before making a decision with moral consequences is related to the outcome of that decision in a curvilinear way. Using two different moral decisions and both measuring and manipulating the level of cognitive complexity employed by the decision maker, we find that decisions made after reasoning with low and high levels of cognitive complexity are less moral than those made after reasoning at moderate levels of complexity. These results suggest that the best moral decisions are those that have been reasoned through “just enough”. Further, and at least as important, they illustrate the need to expand our study of ethical behavior beyond simple effects, and to gain a deeper understanding of the thought processes of individuals faced with moral choices.


Ethical decision making; Cognitive complexity; Moral reasoning

Available on ECCH


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