中田纳西州立大学（Middle Tennessee State University）的心理学教授马克•弗雷姆认为，我们不仅仅为自己的混帐行为找借口，对周围的同事也同样如此。他说：“一个人身边的行为不端者越多，就越会觉得那些行为没什么大不了。”比如，在巴克莱的利率操纵和摩根大通的冒险交易中，交易员似乎都曾经抱团行动，隐瞒真相。
We not only rationalize our own jerk-like behavior, but our colleagues' actions as well, says Mark Frame, a psychology professor at Middle Tennessee State University who specializes in workplace psychology. "The more you surround yourself with the kind of people who are engaged in the same deviant behavior, the more it seems normal," he says. For example, it appears that groups of traders acted together in both the Barclay's rate-fixing debacle and at J.P. Morgan, to cover their tracks.
If we rationalize questionable behavior once, we're likely to repeat it, Frame says. "It's not, 'Hey, today I woke up and decided I'm going to fudge the numbers for my corporation.'" Instead, it's a collection of small rationalizations that build up over time. That's what happened this past September when UBS trader Kweku Adoboli was arrested for having made a series of bad trades over a three-month period that ended up losing the company billions of dollars.
When the problem goes system-wide
Businesses as well as individuals can normalize unethical behavior. Take Barclays, which, among other banks now, is accused of fixing its Libor rate submissions. In a statement addressing Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius' departure, former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond's argued that other banks were fixing Libor submissions as well, and his executives didn't want Barclays to look bad.
And for a while, it didn't. But then the problems came to light this year, and he and Agius lost their jobs. There are other casualties: David Bagley, HSBC's had of group compliance announced yesterday that he was stepping down. Those high-profile resignations could set an example that top executives will be on the chopping block if they don't keep their people on the straight and narrow. But on the other hand, none of these banks are in danger of collapsing any time soon. Without a major cultural shift, removing key participants is a cheap Band-Aid.
The rewards for unethical behavior at big banks are large and fast while regulators act slow and penalties are relatively low. In a low-risk, high reward situation, our brains will work extremely hard to get our values on board with being rewarded, even if that means cheating. That's not even a complex rationalization. Simply put, Frame says, "People will do what you reward them to do."
If we want our big bank leaders to demonstrate standout ethical behavior, we should start to think about ways to reward them for it.