2010 m. gegužės 3 d., pirmadienis

Psychology of conflicts

There are lots of kinds of conflicts. Most of them are conflicts in pair or group of people, but the are not less conflicts „with yourself“. One kind of these are conflicts of interests, whitch about I would like to talk today.

Conflicts of interest

In Journal of Applied Philosophy I‘ve read an interesting article by professor Paul Thagard called „The Moral Psychology of Conflicts of Interest: Insights from Affective Neuroscience“. This article is an investigation of the moral psychology of decisions that involve a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest arise when people make decisions biased by their personal goals, neglecting responsibilities to consider the interests of others. In this paper there are discussed even few important questions about the moral psychology of conflicts of interest, like „Why are decisions that involve conflicts of interest so common? Why are people so often unaware that they are acting immorally as the result of conflicts of interest? What is the relation of conflicts of interest to other kinds of irrationality, especially self-deception and weakness of will?“. But the most interesting and usefull to talk about, on my opinion, is „What psychological, social, and logical steps can be taken to reduce the occurrence of immoral decisions resulting from conflicts of interest?“. Thagard discussed five strategies for dealing with conflicts of interest: avoidance, optimal reasoning patterns, disclosure, social oversight, and understanding of neuropsychological processes.

A Kantian would say that the people who make a decision under a conflict of interest are acting wrongly because they are in violation of their ethical duties, because their decision has negative consequences for many of the people affected, and positive consequences only for a few who benefit from the decision.

So what measures can be taken to eliminate or reduce the occurrence of bad decisions deriving from conflicts of interest?

By pure reason I mean the normative strategy that when people make decisions they should ensure that they are governed only by optimal reasoning patterns such as mathematical decision analysis. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that people can disconnect their reasoning apparatus from the emotional machinery, it is psychologically unrealistic to expect them to disengage their emotional systems while making important decisions. Although people can certainly improve their reasoning in some case by using optimal patterns.

In medical circles, a currently popular way of dealing with conflicts of interest is to have the relevant parties disclose them. For example, authors of articles in major medical journals now need to report their sources of funding. A recent experimental study of disclosing conflicts of interest reveals that it can have perverse effects.There is clearly no guarantee that merely disclosing a conflict of interest compensates for or counterbalances the emotional pull inherent in the conflict. Indeed, disclosure may have the negative effect of giving decision makers false assurance that they are immune from the effects of the conflict.

Certainly the most effective way of dealing with conflicts of interest is to eliminate them entirely, although, it‘s often imposible to eliminate all the reasons of conflicts of interest. And hence complete avoidance of conflict of interest, although a seful ideal, will often fail in practice.

Another strategy for dealing with conflicts of interest is social oversight, based on the principles that supervisors or peers of an agent may be able to identify decision errors to which the agent is oblivious. Such oversight is certainly useful, but does not help much if the supervisors or peers have conflicts of interest of their own, which may be as mild as a desire to get along with or be liked by the agent.

The final strategy for reducing bad decisions resulting from conflict of interest is simply to make people more aware of the moral neuropsychology of decision-making. Perhaps if people knew more about how cognition and affect are intimately connected and how the connections are inaccessible to conscious introspection, they would be much less confident about the basis and validity of their decisions. „In particular, mere disclosure of conflicts of interest may be of little benefit in reducing distorted reasoning.“ Says prof. Paul Thagard.