Mecham, Nathan and Lewis-Western, Melissa Fay and Wood, David A.
(June 5, 2019). Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3399630
Pornography is no longer an activity confined to a small group of individuals or the privacy of one’s home. Rather, it has permeated modern culture, including the work environment. Given the pervasive nature of pornography, we study how viewing pornography affects unethical behavior at work. Using survey data from a sample that approximates a nationally representative sample in terms of demographics, we find a positive correlation between viewing pornography and intended unethical behavior. We then conduct an experiment to provide causal evidence. The experiment confirms the survey — consuming pornography causes individuals to be less ethical. We find that this relationship is mediated by increased moral disengagement from dehumanization of others due to viewing pornography. Combined, our results suggest that choosing to consume pornography causes individuals to behave less ethically. Because unethical employee behavior has been linked to numerous negative organization outcomes including fraud, collusion, and other self-serving behaviors, our results have implications for most societal organizations.
From the Conclusion:
Because pornography increases unethical behavior and the effect stems from an increased propensity to dehumanize others, our results have implications for numerous business and organizational decisions. For example, an increased tendency to lie to obtain gain and to view others only as a means to an end is likely to be highly detrimental to team effectiveness and cooperation. In addition, treating customers like objects rather than respecting them is likely to reduce customer satisfaction. Also, organizations’ ability to retain and develop talented women may be undermined when employees, particularly those in leadership positions, consume pornography and more aggressively engage in dehumanizing behavior. Finally, increased employee propensity to dehumanize co-workers is likely to increase the incidence of sexual harassment or hostile work environments, both of which can decrease firm productivity and lead to costly litigation.