Does competition make us less moral? New research says yes, but only a little bit

7 Jun 2023

Dr Ozan Isler writes for The Conversation.

Vector art of two men on separate ladders, with the lower man kicking the ladder of the man father ahead. Many of our economic and even social interactions are competitive. We use markets to find jobs, but also dates. What does this mean for our morals? Does capitalism give us the American dream, or American Psycho? Does the experience of competition keep us honest, or drive us towards cheating?

These profound questions preoccupied the minds of some of the great classical economists, who saw capitalism as rife with both good and bad moral influences. Adam Smith mostly focused on the good, whereas Karl Marx was admittedly less optimistic.

To test this question convincingly in the lab, our project coordinators invited dozens of behavioural scientists to contribute their own experimental designs, resulting in observations of more than 18,000 people in total.

Our results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that competitive interactions tend to make people’s behaviour slightly less moral – and offer some intriguing clues about why this might be so.

Read the full article at The Conversation.