By Dolly Chugh, Mary C. Kern, Zhu Zhu, and Sujin Lee
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 51 (2014) 88–93.
• We propose an ethical intervention with the potential to reduce unethical decision-making.
• We challenge the relationship between moral disengagement and unethical decision-making.
• We use attachment theory as the basis for the ethical intervention.
• Individuals primed with attachment anxiety experience the usual effects of moral disengagement.
• However, individuals primed with attachment security are able to withstand moral disengagement.
We propose an ethical intervention leading to improved ethical decision-making. Moral disengagement has long been related to unethical decision-making. We test an ethical intervention in which this relationship is broken. Our ethical intervention consisted of priming individuals to be securely-attached, in which they recalled a past instance of relational support and acceptance. We predicted and found an interaction between attachment state and moral disengagement, in which individuals primed with attachment security were able to withstand moral disengagement.
In Study 1, we demonstrate that the securely attached behave more ethically than the anxiously attached in an achievement context. In Study 2, we show that secure attachment overrides one's natural propensity to morally disengage. In Study 3, we find that secure attachment minimizes the impact of the propensity to morally disengage through the mechanism of threat construal. Within both student and working adult samples and using both judgment and behavioral dependent variables, we show that the priming of secure attachment is a relatively simple and effective intervention that managers, educators, and organizations can use to reduce unethical behavior.
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