Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Bounded awareness: Implications for ethical decision making

Max H. Bazerman and Ovul Sezer
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume 136, September 2016, Pages 95-105


In many of the business scandals of the new millennium, the perpetrators were surrounded by people who could have recognized the misbehavior, yet failed to notice it. To explain such inaction, management scholars have been developing the area of behavioral ethics and the more specific topic of bounded ethicality—the systematic and predictable ways in which even good people engage in unethical conduct without their own awareness. In this paper, we review research on both bounded ethicality and bounded awareness, and connect the two areas to highlight the challenges of encouraging managers and leaders to notice and act to stop unethical conduct. We close with directions for future research and suggest that noticing unethical behavior should be considered a critical leadership skill.

Bounded Ethicality

Within the broad topic of behavioral ethics is the much more specific topic of bounded ethicality (Chugh, Banaji, & Bazerman, 2005). Chugh et al. (2005) define bounded ethicality as the psychological processes that lead people to engage in ethically questionable behaviors that are inconsistent with their own preferred ethics. That is, if they were more reflective about their choices, they would make a different decision. This definition runs parallel to the concepts of bounded rationality (March & Simon, 1958) and bounded awareness (Chugh & Bazerman, 2007). In all three cases, a cognitive shortcoming keeps the actor from taking the action that she would choose with greater awareness. Importantly, if people overcame these boundaries, they would make decisions that are more in line with their ethical standards. Note that behavioral ethicists do not ask decision makers to follow particular values or rules, but rather try to help decision makers adhere more closely
to their own personal values with greater reflection.

The paper can be downloaded here.