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
Showing posts with label Unethical Behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Unethical Behavior. Show all posts

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Powerlessness Also Corrupts: Lower Power Increases Self-Promotional Lying

Li, H.(., Chen, Y., & Hildreth, J.A. (2022).
Organization Science.


The popular maxim holds that power corrupts, and research to date supports the view that power increases self-interested unethical behavior. However, we predict the opposite effect when unethical behavior, specifically lying, helps an individual self-promote: lower rather than higher power increases self-promotional lying. Drawing from compensatory consumption theory, we propose that this effect occurs because lower power people feel less esteemed in their organizations than do higher power people. To compensate for this need to view themselves as esteemed members of their organizations, lower power individuals are more likely to inflate their accomplishments. Evidence from four studies supports our predictions: compared with those with higher power, executives with lower power in their organizations were more likely to lie about their work achievements (Study 1, n = 230); graduate students with lower power in their Ph.D. studies were more likely to lie about their publication records (Study 2, n = 164); and employees with lower power were more likely to lie about having signed a business contract (Studies 3 and 4). Mediation analyses suggest that lower power increased lying because lower power individuals feel lower esteem in their organizations (Study 3, n = 562). Further supporting this mechanism, a self-affirmation intervention reduced the effect of lower power on self-promotional lying (Study 4, n = 536). These converging findings show that, when lies are self-promotional, lower power can be more corruptive than higher power.


The popular maxim that power corrupts has long held sway over the public imagination, but recently, scholarly research has challenged the universality of this maxim and added an important modifier: power corrupts when corruption is selfish in nature. In the current research, we drive another nail into this maxim’s coffin, finding that lower rather than higher power can increase certain self-interested unethical behaviors.  Specifically, we find that lower power increases self-promotional lying because it triggers the aversive feeling of low esteem. Therefore, the effects of power on corruption depend critically on the motivations underlying a particular unethical behavior. Even when corruption is self-interested in nature, power need not always corrupt.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

How Plain Talk Helps You "Walk the Walk"

Brett Beasley
Notre Dame Center for Ethical Leadership
Originally posted April 2022

Here is an excerpt:

How Unclear Values Cloud Our Moral Vision

Was Orwell right? Some may disagree with his take on the link between bad writing and bad politics. But it appears that Orwell's theory applies well to something he never considered: Corporate values statements. A new study shows that unclear writing in values statements matters. Unclarity sends a signal that a corporation can't be trusted. And, according to the study's authors, it's a reliable signal, too. They find that corporations that hide behind fuzzy, unclear values often do have something to hide.

The team of researchers behind the study, led by David Markowitz (Oregon), considered the values statements of 188 S&P 500 manufacturing companies. Markowitz was joined by Maryam Kouchaki (Northwestern), Jeffrey T. Hancock (Stanford), and Francesca Gino (Harvard).

They drew inspiration from earlier studies that had shown that companies with negative annual earnings write in a less clear manner in their reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). They reasoned that a similar process might occur with ethics as well.

Together the team was able to chronicle which companies had ethics infractions (like environmental violations, fraud, and anticompetitive activity). They also determined which codes of conduct were "linguistically obfuscated." These codes were full of abstraction, jargon, and long, overly complex explanations.

The results of the study proved their hypothesis correct: Companies with ethics infractions did resort to unclear language in order to hide them.

The researchers began to ask additional questions. They wanted to know if unclear language actually works. Does it effectively hide a company's problems? They showed corporate values statements to study participants and asked about their perceptions of the companies behind them. The participants saw the companies with clearly-written values statements as more moral, warmer, and more trustworthy, compared to those with jargon-laden values statements.

The Deception Spiral

Then the researchers decided to go a step further. They had shown that unclear language is often a consequence of unethical behavior. Now they wanted to see if it could cause unethical behavior as well. This would help them determine if something like the vicious cycle Orwell theorized really could exist.

This time, they took their work to the lab. They showed study participants values statements and then handed participants a list with scrambled words like “TTISRA” and “LONSEM.” They asked participants to unscramble the words and gave them opportunities to earn money. They introduced an element of competition as well. They could earn bonuses for unscrambling a greater number of words than 80% of the participants in their group.

At the same time, the researchers laid a trap. “TTISRA,” could be unscrambled to spell “ARTIST.” “LONSEM” could become “LEMONS.” But they included some words like OPOER, ALVNO, and ANHDU, which do not spell a word no matter how participants rearranged the letters. This trap enabled them to measure whether people cheated during the activity. If the participants said they unscramble the words without solutions, the researchers concluded they must have cheated in reporting their score.

The participants who had seen the unclear statements were more likely to cave to the temptation. Those who had seen the clear statement tended to stay on the moral path. Most importantly, this meant that the researchers had found clear support for a cycle similar to the one Orwell had described. This "deception spiral" as they call it, meant that unethical behavior can lead to unclear statements about values. And unclear statements about values can, in turn, contribute even more to unethical behavior.

Friday, October 22, 2021

A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Antecedents, Theoretical Correlates, and Consequences of Moral Disengagement at Work

Ogunfowora, B. T., et al. (2021)
The Journal of Applied Psychology
Advance online publication. 


Moral disengagement refers to a set of cognitive tactics people employ to sidestep moral self-regulatory processes that normally prevent wrongdoing. In this study, we present a comprehensive meta-analytic review of the nomological network of moral disengagement at work. First, we test its dispositional and contextual antecedents, theoretical correlates, and consequences, including ethics (workplace misconduct and organizational citizenship behaviors [OCBs]) and non-ethics outcomes (turnover intentions and task performance). Second, we examine Bandura's postulation that moral disengagement fosters misconduct by diminishing moral cognitions (moral awareness and moral judgment) and anticipatory moral self-condemning emotions (guilt). We also test a contrarian view that moral disengagement is limited in its capacity to effectively curtail moral emotions after wrongdoing. The results show that Honesty-Humility, guilt proneness, moral identity, trait empathy, conscientiousness, idealism, and relativism are key individual antecedents. Further, abusive supervision and perceived organizational politics are strong contextual enablers of moral disengagement, while ethical leadership and organizational justice are relatively weak deterrents. We also found that narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and psychological entitlement are key theoretical correlates, although moral disengagement shows incremental validity over these "dark" traits. Next, moral disengagement was positively associated with workplace misconduct and turnover intentions, and negatively related to OCBs and task performance. Its positive impact on misconduct was mediated by lower moral awareness, moral judgment, and anticipated guilt. Interestingly, however, moral disengagement was positively related to guilt and shame post-misconduct. In sum, we find strong cumulative evidence for the pertinence of moral disengagement in the workplace.

From the Discussion

Our moderator analyses reveal several noteworthy findings. First, the relationship between moral disengagement and misconduct did not significantly differ depending on whether it is operationalized as a trait or state. This suggests that the impact of moral disengagement – at least with respect to workplace misconduct – is equally devastating when it is triggered in specific situations or when it is captured as a stable propensity. This provides initial support for conceptualizing moral disengagement along a continuum – from “one off” instances in specific contexts (i.e., state moral disengagement) to a “dynamic disposition” (Bandura, 1999b) that is relatively stable, but which may also shift in response to different situations (Moore et al., 2019).  

Second, there may be utility in exploring specific disengagement tactics. For instance, euphemistic labeling exerted stronger effects on misconduct compared to moral justification and diffusion of responsibility. Relative weight analyses further showed that some tactics contribute more to understanding misconduct and OCBs. Scholars have proposed that exploring moral disengagement tactics that match the specific context may offer new insights (Kish-Gephart et al., 2014; Moore et al., 2019). It is possible that moral justification might be critical in situations where participants must conjure up rationales to justify their misdeeds (Duffy et al., 2005), while diffusion of responsibility might matter more in team settings where morally disengaging employees can easily assign blame to the collective (Alnuaimi et al., 2010). These possibilities suggest that specific disengagement tactics may offer novel theoretical insights that may be overlooked when scholars focus on overall moral disengagement. However, we acknowledge that this conclusion is preliminary given the small number of studies available for these analyses. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

What Causes Unethical Behavior? A Meta-Analysis to Set an Agenda for Public Administration Research

Nicola Belle & Paola Cantarelli
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 77, Iss. 3, pp. 327–339


This article uses meta-analysis to synthesize 137 experiments in 73 articles on the causes of unethical behavior. Results show that exposure to in-group members who misbehave or to others who benefit from unethical actions, greed, egocentrism, self-justification, exposure to incremental dishonesty, loss aversion, challenging performance goals, or time pressure increase unethical behavior. In contrast, monitoring of employees, moral reminders, and individuals’ willingness to maintain a positive self-view decrease unethical conduct. Findings on the effect of self-control depletion on unethical behavior are mixed. Results also present subgroup analyses and several measures of study heterogeneity and likelihood of publication bias. The implications are of interest to both scholars and practitioners. The article concludes by discussing which of the factors analyzed should gain prominence in public administration research and uncovering several unexplored causes of unethical behavior.

From the Discussion

Among the factors that our meta-analyses identified as determinants of unethical behavior, the following may be elevated to prominence for public administration research and practice. First, results from the meta-analyses on social influences suggest that being exposed to corrupted colleagues may enhance the likelihood that one engages in unethical conduct. These findings are particularly relevant because “[c]orruption in the public sector hampers the efficiency of public services, undermines confidence in public institutions and increases the cost of public transactions” (OECD 2015 ). Moreover, corruption “may distort government ’ s public resource allocations” (Liu and Mikesell 2014 , 346). 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities

Ok, E., Qian, Y., Strejcek, B., & Aquino, K. 
(2020). Journal of Personality 
and Social Psychology. 


We investigate the consequences and predictors of emitting signals of victimhood and virtue. In our first three studies, we show that the virtuous victim signal can facilitate nonreciprocal resource transfer from others to the signaler. Next, we develop and validate a victim signaling scale that we combine with an established measure of virtue signaling to operationalize the virtuous victim construct. We show that individuals with Dark Triad traits—Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy—more frequently signal virtuous victimhood, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic variables that are commonly associated with victimization in Western societies. In Study 5, we show that a specific dimension of Machiavellianism—amoral manipulation—and a form of narcissism that reflects a person’s belief in their superior prosociality predict more frequent virtuous victim signaling. Studies 3, 4, and 6 test our hypothesis that the frequency of emitting virtuous victim signal predicts a person’s willingness to engage in and endorse ethically questionable behaviors, such as lying to earn a bonus, intention to purchase counterfeit products and moral judgments of counterfeiters, and making exaggerated claims about being harmed in an organizational context.

General Discussion

Fortune and human imperfection assure that at some point in life everyone will experience suffering, disadvantage, or mistreatment.  When this happens, there will be some who face their burdens in silence, treating it as a private matter they must work out for themselves, and there will others who make a public spectacle of their sufferings, label themselves as victims, and demand compensation for their pain. This latter response is what interests us in this series of studies. Much research documents the intrapsychic and
social costs of being a victim (Bar-Tal, Chernyak-Hai, Schori, & Gundar, 2009; Taylor, Wood, & Lichtman, 1983; Zur, 2013), yet the increasing presence of individuals and groups publicly claiming victim status has led many observers to conclude that Western societies have developed a culture of victimization that makes victim-claiming advantageous (Campbell & Manning, 2018).

As explained earlier, victim signaling can yield many positive personal and social outcomes, such as helping people heal and raising awareness about the conditions that lead to victimization.  Our article focuses on a different set of questions associated with victim signaling, including an examination of its functionality as a social influence tactic, how its effectiveness can be maximized by combining it with a virtue signal, who is likely to emit this dual signal, and whether the frequency of signaling virtuous victimhood can predict certain behaviors and judgments. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Blind loyalty? When group loyalty makes us see evil or engage in it

J. A. Hildreth, F. Gino, & M. Bazerman
Organizational Behavior and 
Human Decision Processes
Volume 132, January 2016, 16-36


Loyalty often drives corruption. Corporate scandals, political machinations, and sports cheating highlight how loyalty’s pernicious nature manifests in collusion, conspiracy, cronyism, nepotism, and other forms of cheating. Yet loyalty is also touted as an ethical principle that guides behavior. Drawing on moral psychology and behavioral ethics research, we developed hypotheses about when group loyalty fosters ethical behavior and when it fosters corruption. Across nine studies, we found that individuals primed with loyalty cheated less than those not primed (Study 1A and 1B). Members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 2A) and students more loyal to their study groups (Study 2B) also cheated less than their less loyal counterparts due to greater ethical salience when they pledged their loyalty (Studies 3A and 3B). Importantly, competition moderated these effects: when competition was high, members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 4) or individuals primed with loyalty (Studies 5A and 5B) cheated more.


• We define loyalty as the principle of partiality toward an object (e.g. group).

• Across nine studies we found that loyalty reduced rather than increased cheating when group goals were unclear.

• Pledging loyalty increased the salience of ethics which led to less cheating.

• Competition moderated these effects: when competition was high the loyal cheated more.

• The findings are consistent with loyalty’s role as an ethical principle.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Unethical amnesia responds more to instrumental than to hedonic motives

Galeotti, F, Saucet, C., & Villeval, M. C.
PNAS, October 13, 2020 117 (41) 25423-25428; 
first published September 28, 2020; 


Humans care about morality. Yet, they often engage in actions that contradict their moral self. Unethical amnesia is observed when people do not remember or remember less vividly these actions. This paper explores two reasons why individuals may experience unethical amnesia. Forgetting past unethical behavior may be motivated by purely hedonic or affective reasons, such as the willingness to maintain one’s moral self-image, but also by instrumental or strategic motives, in anticipation of future misbehavior. In a large-scale incentivized online experiment (n = 1,322) using a variant of a mind game, we find that hedonic considerations are not sufficient to motivate the forgetting of past cheating behavior. This is confirmed in a follow-up experiment (n = 1,005) in which recalls are elicited the same day instead of 3 wk apart. However, when unethical amnesia can serve as a justification for a future action, such as deciding on whether to keep undeserved money, motivated forgetting is more likely. Thereby, we show that motivated forgetting occurs as a self-excuse to justify future immoral decisions.


Using large-scale incentivized online experiments, we tested two possible origins of individuals’ forgetting about their past cheating behavior in a mind game. We found that purely hedonic considerations, such as the maintenance of a positive self-image, are not sufficient to motivate unethical amnesia, but the addition of an instrumental value to forgetting triggers such amnesia. Individuals forget their past lies more when amnesia can serve as an excuse not to engage in future morally responsible behavior. These findings shed light on the interplay between dishonesty and memory and suggest further investigations of the cost function of unethical amnesia. A policy implication is that improving ethics requires making unethical amnesia more difficult for individuals.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Corruption Is Contagious: Dishonesty begets dishonesty, rapidly spreading unethical behavior through a society

Dan Ariely & Ximena Garcia-Rada
Scientific American
September 2019

Here is an excerpt:

This is because social norms—the patterns of behavior that are accepted as normal—impact how people will behave in many situations, including those involving ethical dilemmas. In 1991 psychologists Robert B. Cialdini, Carl A. Kallgren and Raymond R. Reno drew the important distinction between descriptive norms—the perception of what most people do—and injunctive norms—the perception of what most people approve or disapprove of. We argue that both types of norms influence bribery.

Simply put, knowing that others are paying bribes to obtain preferential treatment (a descriptive norm) makes people feel that it is more acceptable to pay a bribe themselves.

Similarly, thinking that others believe that paying a bribe is acceptable (an injunctive norm) will make people feel more comfortable when accepting a bribe request. Bribery becomes normative, affecting people's moral character.

In 2009 Ariely, with behavioral researchers Francesca Gino and Shahar Ayal, published a study showing how powerful social norms can be in shaping dishonest behavior. In two lab studies, they assessed the circumstances in which exposure to others' unethical behavior would change someone's ethical decision-making. Group membership turned out to have a significant effect: When individuals observed an in-group member behaving dishonestly (a student with a T-shirt suggesting he or she was from the same school cheating in a test), they, too, behaved dishonestly. In contrast, when the person behaving dishonestly was an out-group member (a student with a T-shirt from the rival school), observers acted more honestly.

But social norms also vary from culture to culture: What is acceptable in one culture might not be acceptable in another. For example, in some societies giving gifts to clients or public officials demonstrates respect for a business relationship, whereas in other cultures it is considered bribery. Similarly, gifts for individuals in business relationships can be regarded either as lubricants of business negotiations, in the words of behavioral economists Michel André Maréchal and Christian Thöni, or as questionable business practices. And these expectations and rules about what is accepted are learned and reinforced by observation of others in the same group. Thus, in countries where individuals regularly learn that others are paying bribes to obtain preferential treatment, they determine that paying bribes is socially acceptable. Over time the line between ethical and unethical behavior becomes blurry, and dishonesty becomes the “way of doing business.”

The info is here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Whistle-blowers act out of a sense of morality

Alice Walton
Originally posted September 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

To understand the factors that predict the likelihood of whistle-blowing, the researchers analyzed data from more than 42,000 participants in the ongoing Merit Principles Survey, which has polled US government employees since 1979, and which covers whistle-blowing. Respondents answer questions about their past experiences with unethical behavior, the approaches they’d take in dealing with future unethical behavior, and their personal characteristics, including their concern for others and their feelings about their organizations.

Concern for others was the strongest predictor of whistle-blowing, the researchers find. This was true both of people who had already blown the whistle on bad behavior and of people who expected they might in the future.

Loyalty to an immediate community—or ingroup, in psychological terms—was also linked to whistle-blowing, but in an inverse way. “The greater people’s concern for loyalty, the less likely they were to blow the whistle,” write the researchers. 

Organizational factors—such as people’s perceptions about their employer, their concern for their job, and their level of motivation or engagement—were largely unconnected to whether people spoke up. The only ones that appeared to matter were how fair people perceived their organization to be, as well as the extent to which the organization educated its employees about ways to expose bad behavior and the rights of whistle-blowers. The data suggest these two factors were linked to whether whistle-blowers opted to address the unethical behavior through internal or external avenues. 

The info is here.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business

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.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Leaders matter morally: The role of ethical leadership in shaping employee moral cognition and misconduct.

Moore, C., Mayer, D. M., Chiang, F. F. T., Crossley, C., Karlesky, M. J., & Birtch, T. A. (2019). Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(1), 123-145.


There has long been interest in how leaders influence the unethical behavior of those who they lead. However, research in this area has tended to focus on leaders’ direct influence over subordinate behavior, such as through role modeling or eliciting positive social exchange. We extend this research by examining how ethical leaders affect how employees construe morally problematic decisions, ultimately influencing their behavior. Across four studies, diverse in methods (lab and field) and national context (the United States and China), we find that ethical leadership decreases employees’ propensity to morally disengage, with ultimate effects on employees’ unethical decisions and deviant behavior. Further, employee moral identity moderates this mediated effect. However, the form of this moderation is not consistent. In Studies 2 and 4, we find that ethical leaders have the largest positive influence over individuals with a weak moral identity (providing a “saving grace”), whereas in Study 3, we find that ethical leaders have the largest positive influence over individuals with a strong moral identity (catalyzing a “virtuous synergy”). We use these findings to speculate about when ethical leaders might function as a “saving grace” versus a “virtuous synergy.” Together, our results suggest that employee misconduct stems from a complex interaction between employees, their leaders, and the context in which this relationship takes place, specifically via leaders’ influence over employees’ moral cognition.

Here is the Conclusion:

Our research points to one of the reasons why 'cleaning house' of morally compromised leaders after scandals may be less effective than we might expect. The fact that leadership affects the extent to which subordinates morally disengage means that their influence may be more profound and nefarious than one might conclude given earlier understandings of the mechanisms through which ethical leadership elicits its outcomes. One can eliminate perverse incentives and remove poor role models, but once a leader shifts how subordinates cognitively construe decisions with ethical import, their continuing influence on employee misconduct may be harder to undo.

The info is here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Impact of Leader Moral Humility on Follower Moral Self-Efficacy and Behavior

Owens, B. P., Yam, K. C., Bednar, J. S., Mao, J., & Hart, D. W.
Journal of Applied Psychology. (2018)


This study utilizes social–cognitive theory, humble leadership theory, and the behavioral ethics literature to theoretically develop the concept of leader moral humility and its effects on followers. Specifically, we propose a theoretical model wherein leader moral humility and follower implicit theories about morality interact to predict follower moral efficacy, which in turn increases follower prosocial behavior and decreases follower unethical behavior. We furthermore suggest that these effects are strongest when followers hold an incremental implicit theory of morality (i.e., believing that one’s morality is malleable). We test and find support for our theoretical model using two multiwave studies with Eastern (Study 1) and Western (Study 2) samples. Furthermore, we demonstrate that leader moral humility predicts follower moral efficacy and moral behaviors above and beyond the effects of ethical leadership and leader general humility.

Here is the conclusion:

We introduced the construct of leader moral humility and theorized its effects on followers. Two studies with samples from both Eastern and Western cultures provided empirical support that leader moral humility enhances followers’ moral self-efficacy, which in turn leads to increased prosocial behavior and decreased unethical behavior. We further demonstrated that these effects depend on followers’ implicit theories of the malleability of morality. More important, we found that these effects were above and beyond the influences of general humility, ethical leadership, LMX, and ethical norms of conduct, providing support for the theoretical and practical importance of this new leadership construct. Our model is based on the general proposal that we need followers who believe in and leaders who model ongoing moral development. We hope that the current research inspires further exploration regarding how leaders and followers interact to shape and facilitate a more ethical workplace.

The article is here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Top Goldman Banker Raised Ethics Concerns. Then He Was Gone.

Emily Flitter, Kate Kelly and David Enrich
The New York Times
Originally posted September 11, 2018

By the tight-lipped standards of Goldman Sachs, the phone call from one of the firm’s most senior investment bankers was explosive.

James C. Katzman, a Goldman partner and the leader of its West Coast mergers-and-acquisitions practice, dialed the bank’s whistle-blower hotline in 2014 to complain about what he regarded as a range of unethical practices, according to accounts by people close to Mr. Katzman, which a Goldman spokesman confirmed. His grievances included an effort by Goldman to hire a customer’s child and colleagues’ repeated attempts to obtain and then share confidential client information.

Mr. Katzman expected lawyers at the firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which monitored the hotline, to investigate his allegations and share them with independent members of Goldman’s board of directors, the people close to Mr. Katzman said.

The complaints were an extraordinary example of a senior employee’s taking on what he perceived to be corporate wrongdoing at an elite Wall Street bank. But they were never independently investigated or fully relayed to the Goldman board.

The information is here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Polluted Morality: Air Pollution Predicts Criminal Activity and Unethical Behavior

Jackson G. Lu, Julia J. Lee, Francesca Gino, Adam D. Galinsky
Psychological Science 
First Published February 7, 2018


Air pollution is a serious problem that affects billions of people globally. Although the environmental and health costs of air pollution are well known, the present research investigates its ethical costs. We propose that air pollution can increase criminal and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety. Analyses of a 9-year panel of 9,360 U.S. cities found that air pollution predicted six major categories of crime; these analyses accounted for a comprehensive set of control variables (e.g., city and year fixed effects, population, law enforcement) and survived various robustness checks (e.g., balanced panel, nonparametric bootstrapped standard errors). Three subsequent experiments involving American and Indian participants established the causal effect of psychologically experiencing a polluted (vs. clean) environment on unethical behavior. Consistent with our theoretical perspective, results revealed that anxiety mediated this effect. Air pollution not only corrupts people’s health, but also can contaminate their morality.

The research is here.

If you cannot get to the article, you can download it from here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Middle managers may turn to unethical behavior to face unrealistic expectations

Science Daily
Originally published October 5, 2017

While unethical behavior in organizations is often portrayed as flowing down from top management, or creeping up from low-level positions, a team of researchers suggest that middle management also can play a key role in promoting wide-spread unethical behavior among their subordinates.

In a study of a large telecommunications company, researchers found that middle managers used a range of tactics to inflate their subordinates' performance and deceive top management, according to Linda Treviño, distinguished professor of organizational behavior and ethics, Smeal College of Business, Penn State. The managers may have been motivated to engage in this behavior because leadership instituted performance targets that were unrealizable, she added.


Middle managers also used a range of tactics to coerce their subordinates to keep up the ruse, including rewards for unethical behavior and public shaming for those who were reluctant to engage in the unethical tactics.

"Interestingly, what we didn't see is managers speaking up, we didn't see them pushing back against the unrealistic goals," said Treviño. "We know a lot about what we refer to as 'voice' in an organization and people are fearful and they tend to keep quiet for the most part."

The article is here.

The target article is here.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dishonesty gets easier on the brain the more you do it

Neil Garrett
Originally published March 7, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

These two ideas – the role of arousal on our willingness to cheat, and neural adaptation – are connected because the brain does not just adapt to things such as sounds and smells. The brain also adapts to emotions. For example, when presented with aversive pictures (eg, threatening faces) or receiving something unpleasant (eg, an electric shock), the brain will initially generate strong responses in regions associated with emotional processing. But when these experiences are repeated over time, the emotional responses diminish.


There have also been a number of behavioural interventions proposed to curb unethical behaviour. These include using cues that emphasise morality and encouraging self-engagement. We don’t currently know the underlying neural mechanisms that can account for the positive behavioural changes these interventions drive. But an intriguing possibility is that they operate in part by shifting up our emotional reaction to situations in which dishonesty is an option, in turn helping us to resist the temptation to which we have become less resistant over time.

The article is here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why moral companies do immoral things

Michael Skapinker
Financial Times
Originally published November 23, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

But I wondered about the “better than average” research cited above. Could the illusion of moral superiority apply to organisations as well as individuals? And could companies believe they were so superior morally that the occasional lapse into immorality did not matter much? The Royal Holloway researchers said they had recently conducted experiments examining just these issues and were preparing to publish the results. They had found that political groups with a sense of moral superiority felt justified in behaving aggressively towards opponents. In experiments, this meant denying them a monetary benefit.

“It isn’t difficult to imagine a similar scenario arising in a competitive organisational context. To the extent that employees may perceive their organisation to be morally superior to other organisations, they might feel licensed to ‘cut corners’ or behave somewhat unethically — for example, to give their organisation a competitive edge.

“These behaviours may be perceived as justified … or even ethical, insofar as they promote the goals of their morally superior organisation,” they told me.

The article is here.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Do It Well and Do It Right: The Impact of Service Climate and Ethical Climate on Business Performance and the Boundary Conditions

Kaifeng Jiang, Jia Hu, Ying Hong, Hui Liao, & Songbo Liu
Journal of Applied Psychology
Vol 101(11), Nov 2016, 1553-1568.


Prior research has demonstrated that service climate can enhance unit performance by guiding employees’ service behavior to satisfy customers. Extending this literature, we identified ethical climate toward customers as another indispensable organizational climate in service contexts and examined how and when service climate operates in conjunction with ethical climate to enhance business performance of service units. Based on data collected in 2 phases over 6 months from multiple sources of 196 movie theaters, we found that service climate and ethical climate had disparate impacts on business performance, operationalized as an index of customer attendance rate and operating income per labor hour, by enhancing service behavior and reducing unethical behavior, respectively. Furthermore, we found that service behavior and unethical behavior interacted to affect business performance, in such a way that service behavior was more positively related to business performance when unethical behavior was low than when it was high. This interactive effect between service and unethical behaviors was further strengthened by high market turbulence and competitive intensity. These findings provide new insight into theoretical development of service management and offer practical implications about how to maximize business performance of service units by managing organizational climates and employee behaviors synergistically.


In conclusion, service excellence has become a strategic imperative for service organizations, and prior research has established an unequivocal picture of the value in building a service climate that guides employees to satisfy customers and generate value. Our findings suggest another indispensable and complementary route to service success: in addition to emphasizing service excellence, organizations should highlight high ethical standards to uniquely inhibit unethical behavior. Additionally, both excellent service behavior and adherence to ethics functioned synergistically. Last, our results showed that the synergy between service and ethical behavior was most salient when the market was turbulent or competitive.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Relaxing moral reasoning to win: How organizational identification relates to unethical pro-organizational behavior.

Chen, Mo; Chen, Chao C.; Sheldon, Oliver J.
Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 101(8), Aug 2016, 1082-1096.


Drawing on social identity theory and social–cognitive theory, we hypothesize that organizational identification predicts unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB) through the mediation of moral disengagement. We further propose that competitive interorganizational relations enhance the hypothesized relationships. Three studies conducted in China and the United States using both survey and vignette methodologies provided convergent support for our model. Study 1 revealed that higher organizational identifiers engaged in more UPB, and that this effect was mediated by moral disengagement. Study 2 found that organizational identification once again predicted UPB through the mediation of moral disengagement, and that the mediation relationship was stronger when employees perceived a higher level of industry competition. Finally, Study 3 replicated the above findings using a vignette experiment to provide stronger evidence of causality. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


Managerial Implications Section

In addition to these theoretical contributions, it is also worth briefly touching upon some implications of the present research for managerial practice. Unethical behaviors have proven costly for organizations (Cialdini et al., 2004), especially those behaviors conducted in the name of the organization, which are more likely to undermine stakeholders' organizational trust or even cause the collapse of an organization. In view of the dark side of organizational identification, managers should be aware of blind allegiance and loyalty to the organization among their employees and instead emphasize the importance of social responsibility and caring for all stakeholders. The linkage between organizational identification and moral disengagement we document here suggests that loyal organizational members are under greater pressure to relax their moral reasoning to execute their citizenship behavior, especially when stakes are high in a competitive environment. To counterbalance the tendency toward moral disengagement, organizations and managers need to clearly highlight the importance of hyper ethical values in organizational policies and practices and integrate such ethical standards into managerial decision-making. At the same time, organizations should strive to create a culture of social responsibility so as to reduce UPB (May et al., 2015) and reinforce ethical pro-organizational behavior.

The article is here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Memories of unethical actions become obfuscated over time

Maryam Kouchakia and Francesca Gino
PNAS 2016 ; published ahead of print May 16, 2016


Despite our optimistic belief that we would behave honestly when facing the temptation to act unethically, we often cross ethical boundaries. This paper explores one possibility of why people engage in unethical behavior over time by suggesting that their memory for their past unethical actions is impaired. We propose that, after engaging in unethical behavior, individuals’ memories of their actions become more obfuscated over time because of the psychological distress and discomfort such misdeeds cause. In nine studies (n = 2,109), we show that engaging in unethical behavior produces changes in memory so that memories of unethical actions gradually become less clear and vivid than memories of ethical actions or other types of actions that are either positive or negative in valence. We term this memory obfuscation of one’s unethical acts over time “unethical amnesia.” Because of unethical amnesia, people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time.

The article is here.