Nonrational processes in ethical decision making

Mark D. Rogerson, Michael C. Gottlieb, Mitchell M. Handelsman, Samuel Knapp, Jeffrey Younggren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Most current ethical decision-making models provide a logical and reasoned process for making ethical judgments, but these models are empirically unproven and rely upon assumptions of rational, conscious, and quasilegal reasoning. Such models predominate despite the fact that many nonrational factors influence ethical thought and behavior, including context, perceptions, relationships, emotions, and heuristics. For example, a large body of behavioral research has demonstrated the importance of automatic intuitive and affective processes in decision making and judgment. These processes profoundly affect human behavior and lead to systematic biases and departures from normative theories of rationality. Their influence represents an important but largely unrecognized component of ethical decision making. We selectively review this work; provide various illustrations; and make recommendations for scientists, trainers, and practitioners to aid them in integrating the understanding of nonrational processes with ethical decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)614-623
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011


  • Decision making
  • Emotion
  • Ethics
  • Heuristics
  • Intuition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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