What is it about?

Moral luck refers to whether an actor is morally praised or blamed for an action whose outcome they could not influence. In two studies, we investigated the behavioral importance of this phenomenon in the realm of investments, which has become increasingly subject to ethical evaluations. In our first online experiment, we examined whether people’s moral evaluation of an investment decision depended on its arbitrary outcome and whether their interpretation of the nature of the decision was driven by this outcome. Our results showed that profitable investments were considered more moral than unprofitable investments. Moreover, profitable investments were labeled “investments” instead of “speculation” or “gambling” more often than unprofitable ones. In our second study, we asked the subjects to assess investments independent of the outcome. After the outcome was announced, the subjects were given the opportunity to reflect and change their initial decision. The results show that people change the moral evaluation and label of investments when told that it had a bad outcome. This observation was stable across different investment contexts. These findings suggest that we must be careful with the increasing moralization of investment decisions and be sensitive to our cognitive biases.

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Why is it important?

Many countries and creators of sustainable investment frameworks have been working for years to standardize ethical concepts in the financial market context. However, extensive ethical reflection is often not inherent in these processes. In a study, Raphael Max and Matthias Uhl tried to identify the ethical biases of people in order to make a scientific contribution to the discussion of ethical concepts in the investment context.


It is important that we do not throw around empty words in the debate about sustainable finance, but try to expand the debate with a clear ethical theory. We must not constantly set ethical rules implicitly but should discuss them explicitly. This study should be understood as a contribution to this debate.

Raphael Max
Technische Universitat Munchen

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This page is a summary of: Moral luck in investment contexts: We consciously find unprofitable investments less moral, PLoS ONE, January 2023, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0278677.
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