Motivated dissimilarity construal and self-serving behavior: how we distance ourselves from those we harm

Laura Noval, Günter Stahl, Andy Molinsky

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


It is well established that people are more likely to act in a self-serving manner towards those dissimilar to themselves. Less well understood is how people actively shape perceptions of dissimilarity towards victims in order to minimize their own discomfort. In this paper, we introduce the concept of Motivated Dissimilarity Construal (MDC) – the act of purposely and proactively distancing oneself psychologically from the victim of one’s own self-serving behavior. In doing so, we challenge the notion that potential victims of self-serving acts are perceived objectively and independently of a decision maker’s motivation, as traditional rationalist models of decision making might suggest. Across three experiments, we demonstrate how, why and when MDC is likely to occur, and discuss implications of these findings for theory and research on behavioral ethics and interpersonal similarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145 - 158
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number148
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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