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The results of many observational and experimental studies reveal an economically and socially important paradox: people sometimes behave morally in certain situations but then behave immorally (or, at least, less morally) under conditions that differ for reasons that seem morally irrelevant. These patterns are inconsistent with both theories of rational self-interest as well as with theories that incorporate stable social preferences. This paper introduces a theory that reconciles many of these phenomena, including the depressing effects on moral behavior of experimentally introducing uncertainty, social distance, exit options, and possibilities to take from or destroy the earnings of others. The theory combines the concepts of moral salience and conditional altruism to explain not only the paradoxes but also a wide range of classic findings on social preferences.

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