Other people’s conflict of interest standards

The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported on the results of a fascinating experiment in which different groups of professionals were asked to assess the necessity of conflict of interest standards of conduct both for other professions and their own.  As recounted in the piece:

Doctors participating in [in the study] tended to think those strictures sounded pretty reasonable [when applied to financial planners]. However, when “financial planners” was replaced by “doctors,” and “investment companies” by “pharmaceutical companies,” the doctors started to raise objections — that the supposed conflicts were hypothetical, for example, and that no one’s views about which drugs to prescribe could ever be swayed by a coffee mug. And investment managers surveyed by the researchers reacted similarly: The rules for doctors sounded fine to them, but the ones for investment professionals seemed petty and unnecessary.

This is an example of “motivational bias,”  which is one of  the cornerstones of behavioral ethics.  As related to compliance and ethics programs,  in addition to bearing on the issue of who should create ethical standards, it is also relevant to the enforcement of such standards.

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