Cultural Orientation and Attitudes Toward Different Forms of Whistleblowing: A Comparison of South Korea, Turkey, and the U.K.
ABSTRACT This article reports the findings of a cross-cultural study that explored the relationship between nationality, cultural orientation,
and attitudes toward different ways in which an employee might blow the whistle. The study investigated two questions – are
there any significant differences in the attitudes of university students from South Korea, Turkey and the U.K. toward various
ways by which an employee blows the whistle in an organization?, and what effect, if any, does cultural orientation have on
these attitudes? In order to answer these questions, the study identified six dimensions of whistleblowing and four types
of cultural orientation. The survey was conducted among 759 university students, who voluntarily participated; 284 South Korean,
230 Turkish, and 245 U.K. Although all three samples showed a preference for formal, anonymous and internal modes of whistleblowing,
there were significant variations related to nationality and cultural orientation. The findings have some key implications
for organizational practice and offer directions for future research.
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This study surveyed 195 business students (74 women and 121 men) from three institutions on various aspects of honesty in academics. The study is driven by a concern for the audit implications of the increasing evidence of the link between unethical behavior in college and the workplace and students’ increasing insensitivity to ethical issues. The results of the study evaluate students’ opinions of cheating and the percentage of students who have or would whistle-blow if they observe cheating. The study also examined whether characteristics such as prior cheating behavior, gender, social desirability response bias (SDRB), the belief about doing more about cheating, and prior whistle-blowing will affect a student's intent to whistle-blow. Our data extends prior research on cheating and SDRB by testing their association with students’ self-reported tendency to whistle-blow. Our research indicates that students who have whistle-blown have a higher reported intention to whistle-blow after accounting for the effect of SDRB. Our data indicate that students’ intentions are an important factor that should be considered by instructors as well as researchers.Research on Professional Responsibility and Ethics in Accounting. 05/2011; 15:165-191.
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ABSTRACT: Purpose – The conceptual framework developed in the present study aims to highlight the importance of human resource (HR) practices as a mediator between national culture and employees' careers. Design/methodology/approach – The approach taken is a literature review and the development of a conceptual model. Findings – The paper contributes to the literature by focusing on how culture via HR practices might influence career success. Drawing on Hofstede's cultural dimensions, five propositions are developed regarding the impact of culture on career-relevant HR practices, and how these practices are likely to influence employee career success. Research limitations/implications – Culture's effect should not be overstated. Looking at the propositions, it is possible that the influence of HR practices on career success is more pronounced than the direct effects of culture on career success. Future work is needed to measure and compare the relative strength of different associations as well as the possibility that other HR dimensions relevant to the study of career success may exist. Originality/value – At a general level, there is ample evidence of the impact of culture on the effectiveness of a variety of individual outcomes. The paper focused on the mediating role of HR practices as opposed to advancing hypotheses about direct relationships between culture and career success.Career Development International 01/2010; 15(4):401-418.
- Atherosclerosis Supplements - ATHEROSCLER SUPPL. 01/2011; 12(1):157-157.
TeesRep: Teesside University's Research Repository http://tees.openrepository.com/tees/
This full text version, available on TeesRep, is the post-print (final version prior to publication) of:
Park, H. et al. (2008) 'Cultural orientation and attitudes towards different forms of
whistleblowing: A comparison of South Korea, Turkey and the UK', Journal of
Business Ethics, 82 (4), pp.929-939.
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Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 1
Cultural orientation and attitudes towards different forms of
whistleblowing: A comparison of South Korea, Turkey and the UK
College of Political Science & Economics
221, Heukseok-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul 156-756 Korea
Tel: +82-2-820-5439, Fax: +82-2-826-8627
University of Teesside
Teesside Business School
TS1 3BA, United Kingdom
MUSTAFA KEMAL OKTEM
Department of Political Science and Public Administration
Beytepe Kampusu, Ankara 06800 Turkey
Tel: +90-297-87-25, Fax: +90-297-87-40
Department of Political Science and Public Administration
Beytepe Kampusu, Ankara 06800 Turkey
Tel: +90-297-87-38, Fax: +90-297-87-40
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 2
This article reports the findings of a cross-cultural study that explored the
relationship between nationality, cultural orientation and attitudes towards different
ways in which an employee might blow the whistle. The study investigated two
questions – are there any significant differences in the attitudes of university students
from South Korea, Turkey and the UK toward various ways by which an employee
blows the whistle in an organization?, and what effect, if any, does cultural orientation
have on these attitudes? To answer these questions, the study identified six dimensions
of whistleblowing and four types of cultural orientation. The survey was conducted
among a total of 759 university students, who voluntarily participated; 284 South
Korean, 230 Turkish, and 245 UK. Although all three samples showed a preference
for formal, anonymous and internal modes of whistleblowing, there were significant
variations related to nationality and cultural orientation. The findings have some key
implications for organizational practice and offer directions for future research.
Keywords: cultural orientation, nationality, whistleblowing
Although the benefits of whistleblowing to wider society appear to be increasingly
well accepted, illustrated by widespread adoption of legislation aimed at protecting
whistleblowers, attitudes towards it continue to be at the very least ambivalent, with
many whistleblowers experiencing highly negative responses to their actions (Alford,
2001). Given evidence of the influence of culture in business ethics generally (Smith
& Hume, 2005; Thomas & Au, 2002; Palau, 2001; Tsui & Windsor, 2001)
whistleblowing researchers have begun to extend their research interests to exploring
cultural differences in attitudes to whistleblowing (Tavakoli et al., 2003; Keenan, 2002;
King, 2000). Most cross-cultural studies on ethical attitudes and perceptions have
reported that national culture has a significant influence on ethical attitudes and
behaviors (Su, 2006; Christie, et al., 2003; Ahmed, et al., 2003) and is an important
factor in explaining individual ethical attitudes preferences (Su, 2006). Culture has
also been shown to be closely linked to ethical decision making through its influence on
valuations, reasoning, attitudes, and individual preferences (Lu et al., 1999; Chen et al.,
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 3
1997; Leung et al., 1995). With regard to its possible influence on whistleblowing, we
can expect culture to have an influence through shaping people‟s perceptions on three
key issues – what kind of activities are perceived as wrongdoing; what is considered the
appropriate response to wrongdoing i.e. to do nothing, to confront the perpetrator(s), or
to report the wrongdoing (i.e. blow the whistle); and finally, in those situations where
whistleblowing is seen as the appropriate response, what form of whistleblowing is seen
as most appropriate. The present article focuses on this last point, presenting findings
from a study of attitudes towards whistleblowing amongst students from South Korea,
Turkey and the UK. Our study examines two questions: (1) Are there any significant
differences between the countries, in terms of attitudes towards the ways in which an
employee might blow the whistle on wrongdoing in an organization? (2) To what
extent are these attitudes linked to cultural orientation?
WHISTLEBLOWING AND CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
A Typology of Whistleblowing Whistleblowing is typically defined as reporting
wrongdoing to an individual or organization believed to have the power to stop it (Near
and Miceli, 1985, p.4), and there may be considerable variation in the actual ways by
which employees might blow the whistle. Previous whistleblowing studies have
distinguished between internal versus external approaches, and identified versus
anonymous (Dworkin and Baucus, 1998; Grant, 2002; Heungsik, Rehg and Donggi,
2005). We propose a typology of whistleblowing based on three dimensions, each
dimension representing a choice for the employee – formal versus informal, identified
versus anonymous, and internal versus external,.
Formal versus informal: This classification is based on whether the communication
channel or procedure used for reporting wrongdoing is already in place in an
organization. Formal whistleblowing is an institutional form of reporting wrongdoing,
following the standard lines of communication or a formal organizational protocol for
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 4
such reporting, whereas informal whistleblowing is done by the employee personally
telling close associates or someone s/he trusts about the wrongdoing. Rohde-Liebenau
(2006, p.5) suggests a classification of unauthorized vs. authorized whistleblowing and
formal whistleblowing would be an example of the latter.
Identified versus anonymous: Identified whistleblowing is an employee‟s reporting
of a wrongdoing using his or her real name (or in some other form giving information
which might identify him or her) whereas in anonymous whistleblowing the employee
gives no information about himself or herself, and may use an assumed name.
Internal versus external: This classification is based on whether an employee
provides information to someone inside or outside of the organization. Internal
whistleblowing is the employee‟s reporting of wrongdoing to a supervisor or someone
else within the organization who can correct the wrongdoing (whether or not that person
has formal responsibility for correcting the wrongdoing). External whistleblowing is
reporting of a wrongdoing to outside agencies believed to have the necessary power to
correct the wrongdoing. Presented as a decision tree, these three dimensions lead to
eight conceptually distinct ways to blow the whistle. Although the decisions could
arguably be presented in any sequence, we place formal versus informal first as this
would seem to represent the initial decision i.e. am I going to raise this matter formally
Insert Figure 1 about here
Culture Orientation The most widely studied types of cultural orientation are
individualism and collectivism, which are characterized by how much a person stresses
his or her own goals, or the goals of his or her group (Triandis, 1995, 1996; Bochner,
1994; Hofstede, 1980). Triandis & Gelfand (1998) propose a horizontal/vertical
dimension to individualism/collectivism which refers to whether a person defines his or
her role primarily as the equal of others or as part of a hierarchy. They therefore
propose four types of cultural orientation: horizontal individualism, vertical
individualism, horizontal collectivism, and vertical collectivism. Horizontal
individualism refers to the tendency to be self-reliant, unique, and distinctive from
groups, and to see the individual as being equal to all others. Vertical individualism is
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 5
characterized as the tendency to want to be distinguished from others and move up in
the hierarchy as a result of competition with others. Horizontal collectivism refers to
the tendency to see oneself as being equal to others and to highlight common goals,
interdependence, and sociability. Finally, vertical collectivism is the tendency to stress
loyalty to one‟s group and adherence to hierarchical relationships with others, both of
which lead to a willingness to sacrifice individual goals for the goal of a group and to
submit to authority. Nations vary widely in their emphasis on individualism or
collectivism and horizontalism or verticalism. For the three countries in the present
study (South Korea, Turkey and the UK) there is limited data using the Triandis and
Gelfand formulation, but in terms of Hofstede‟s dimensions they represent a useful
range – South Korea is highly collectivist, the UK highly individualist, with Turkey
somewhere in between (Hofstede, 1980).
Whistleblowing and Cultural Orientation The existing literature suggests
various ways in which the two cultural dimensions might influence attitudes towards
whistleblowing. Drawing upon Hofstede (1980), Sims & Keenan (1999, p.141)
suggested that whistleblowing tendencies might be influenced by individualism and
collectivism. Collectivists avoid directly criticizing a co-worker, consistent with a
motivation to preserve harmonious working relationships (Holtgraves, 1997; Lee, 1993;
Ting-Toomey et al., 1991). In general collectivist cultures disapprove of
whistleblowing, since it disrupts the unity of an organization (Brody, Coulter & Mihalek,
1998). Linking to the vertical-horizontal dimension, King (1999) examined the effects
of organizational structure on the decision to report a corporation‟s wrongdoing, and
found that structures which are highly vertical in nature serve to discourage employees
from using an internal channel to blow the whistle; thus individuals working in a culture
of vertical orientation are more likely to be reluctant to report the wrongdoing through
internal channels. These linkages between cultural orientation and whistleblowing
suggest there will be an impact on the attitudes of people towards an employee‟s
response to wrongdoing as well as to how the employee reports this wrongdoing.
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 6
To explore attitudes towards the various ways of blowing the whistle we focus on
the three dimensions described earlier, rather than the eight distinct types of
whistleblowing to which these dimensions give rise. This is because it is more feasible
to measure attitudes towards the choice each dimension represents rather than the more
complex idea of a particular type of whistleblowing. We surveyed undergraduate
students majoring in social sciences from South Korea, Turkey and the UK, between
March and November 2006. Using student samples is helpful in increasing equality of
variances of compared samples; ensuring the homogeneity of samples is often a critical
problem in cross-cultural studies (Chirkov et al., 2003, p.102). Details of the sample
can be found in Table 1.
Insert Table 1 about here
The authors developed the questionnaire in English to measure students‟ attitudes
towards the various ways in which an employee might blow the whistle on wrongdoing
observed in the organization. It consisted of three parts; the first part measured
attitudes towards the ways by which an employee blows the whistle; the second part
measured students‟ cultural orientation; and the final part asked the respondents for
personal information (gender, age, course year and nationality). Since the nature and
seriousness of wrongdoing and the characteristics of an employee able to report it might
be perceived differently by different respondents, a vignette was used to produce a
common scenario for all respondents: “Assume that the sales department of a company
for whom one man has worked for five years has committed the crime of tax evasion by
manipulating its account books and receipts. The man discovers it one day by chance.”
Respondent‟s attitudes towards how the employee might blow the whistle were
measured by asking respondents, „if he were to report the wrongdoing in any of the
following ways, what would you think of his action?‟
Insert Table 2 about here
Each item was rated on a five-point scale ranging from Strongly disapprove (1) to
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 7
Strongly approve (5). The Cronbach‟s alpha value of all scales was above 0.5, and so
the reliability of the scales is acceptable for statistical analysis.
Cultural orientation was measured by asking respondents to indicate how much they
agreed or disagreed with statements on cultural attitudes. There were 24 items
concerning horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism; 16 items from
Triandis & Gelfand (1998) that measured these four types of cultural orientation, and 8
items from the 32 items in the Singelis et al. (1995) study. However, 14 items were
deleted in factor analysis as they failed to go over the satisfying criteria 0.5 of factor
loadings in the total sample of 759, so only 10 items were analyzed. These are shown
in Table 3.
Insert Table 3 about here
The statements were arranged in random order, and respondents were asked to rate each
statement on a 5-point scale from Strongly disagree (1) to Strongly agree (5).
The descriptive statistics for all variables are shown in table 4, which also shows the
abbreviations to be used in the remaining tables.
Insert Table 4 about here
Analysis by country The first question is whether there are any differences between
the three countries in terms of the students‟ attitudes toward the ways by which an
employee blows the whistle. An ANOVA test was used to explore the differences in
students‟ attitudes on the various dimensions of whistleblowing.
Insert Table 5 about here
Table 5 shows a distinct and consistent pattern of preference in all three countries for
each of the dimensions – without exception the preferred choices are internal,
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 8
anonymous, and formal. However, there are significant variations between countries
in terms of the differences within each dimension. Though all three samples show a
marked preference for internal over external reporting, the difference is most
pronounced for the UK (mean difference of 1.59, compared with .84 for Turkey and .96
for South Korea). The difference in means between identified and anonymous is
relatively small for the UK (.12) and Turkey (.04), but for South Korea it is a
substantial .57 – the choice between identified and anonymous clearly matters much
more to Korean respondents. Similarly, for the difference between formal and
informal, only the UK shows a substantial difference (.60) compared to .07 for Turkey
and .14 for South Korea.
Analysis by cultural orientation We suggested that differences in attitudes
towards whistleblowing might be related to cultural orientation, and this is indeed the
case – see Table 6.
Insert Table 6 about here
Horizontal individualism was positively related to internal, formal, and informal
whistleblowing while vertical individualism was negatively related to internal
whistleblowing but positively with anonymous and informal whistleblowing. HC had
significantly positive relationships with internal, formal and informal while VC had
with anonymous whistleblowing. Among types of whistleblowing, the relationship
between ID and AN was significantly negative (r=.-413, p<.000), and it between EX
and ID was significantly positive (r=.140, p<.000). There were no significant
correlations between the four types of cultural orientation and the whistle-blowing
dimensions EX and ID.
Given evidence of the influence of cultural orientation, it is possible that the country-
related differences noted above do not represent a main effect, but are merely the result
of differences in cultural orientation between the three countries. We therefore
analyzed the data to examine how the cultural orientation varies by the students‟
country of origin. The results are shown in Table 7.
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 9
Insert Table 7 about here
Whilst the ANOVA results in Table 7 indicate considerable differences in cultural
orientation in the three countries, this is slightly deceptive. Given Turkey‟s long
history of sitting literally and metaphorically between Europe and Asia, one might
imagine that the three countries would represent a continuum in terms of cultural
orientation but as Table 8 shows, in each case two countries were similar to each other,
and different to the third to a statistically significant degree. This produces a
clustering pattern in terms of the means for each country.
Insert Table 8 about here
We use the term „cluster‟ with some caution – we are not suggesting an analogy with
the widely-used clusters (e.g. Anglo, Hispanic) used in cross-cultural management,
instead we are merely seeking to draw attention to the fact that on each cultural
orientation our three sample countries show an interesting pattern of similarity and
This complex picture of similarity and difference in attitudes and cultural orientation
across the three countries suggests there is no straightforward link between country,
cultural orientation and attitudes to whistleblowing, and we therefore decided to
undertake a regression analysis to examine the relationship of these three variables.
Analysis by cultural orientation and country Having shown that attitudes to
whistleblowing and cultural orientation both vary by country, we now consider how
these variables are related for each country. Table 9 shows the regression results.
Insert Table 9 about here
The tables reveal an interesting pattern. Firstly, correlations are generally higher
and more significant for the two horizontal dimensions, HI and HC. The striking
exception is the high correlation between VC and anonymous whistleblowing in the
Turkish sample (.439, p<.0001). Secondly, the impact of cultural orientation varies
greatly between countries. The most obvious example is that HI has significant but
quite opposite effects on attitudes towards identified whistleblowing between the British
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 10
and Turkish samples (-.233 and .302 respectively), whilst HC shows a similar divergent
effect for external whistleblowing between the Turkish and South Korean samples (-
.205 and .175). Thirdly, of the 72 possible interactions only 21 showed a statistically
significant effect, and even for these the effect size was generally low – only 4 were
above the .3 level which Cohen (1988) suggests represents a moderate correlation.
Overall then, we can see that the relationship between attitudes to whistleblowing is
neither a simple one between cultural orientation, or country of origin, nor even an
interactive effect between these two variables. We can therefore conclude that
attitudes are influenced by nationality and cultural orientation, but not in a predictable
fashion, as the same cultural orientation can be correlated with quite different attitudes
depending upon nationality.
Before examining the results in more detail, we should acknowledge some of the
methodological limitations. There are obviously drawbacks in the use of student
participants, in terms of their generalizability to the wider population (Weber &
Gillespie, 1998) and of course the samples in this study may not even be representative
of the population of university students in the three countries. The use of self-reported
attitudes means that students‟ responses might merely reflect prevailing social norms,
and/or be subject to social desirability effects (Randall & Fernandes, 1991). The
scenario to which the students were asked to respond is very specific, and it may be that
their response in part reflects their attitudes towards that particular form of wrongdoing.
Also, although the data has been used to draw inferences about how different types of
whistleblowing are viewed in different nations, the fact that we did not directly ask
participants about what they would do in this situation limits our ability to draw more
direct conclusions about which types of whistleblowing might be most effective in
different cultures. Another potential limitation is our decision to measure attitudes
towards the dimensions of whistleblowing, rather than the specific types, which leaves
unexplored the question of possible interaction effects. For example, the strongest
attitudes of South Korea students concerned their preference for formal over informal
routes, and it might be that this preference overrides their other stated preferences
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 11
(anonymous over identified, and internal over external) such that formal whistleblowing
is most preferred even when in combination with the least preferred options on the other
Despite these limitations, the study offers a number of important insights. The
purpose of this study was to examine whether there are significant differences in
attitudes on whistleblowing between different nationalities, and whether these
differences might be explained by differences in cultural orientation. In gathering data
from three different countries we expected to obtain data from populations with
different cultural orientations, and we implicitly assumed that cultural orientation would
be the underlying factor. In fact, our findings showed that nationality was the more
significant factor. Although statistically significant differences in attitudes toward
whistleblowing were observed for both nationality and cultural orientation, the effect
size was much greater for nationality. Crucially, the influence of cultural orientation
varied by nationality and also across the various dimensions of whistleblowing,
meaning that the same cultural orientation could have different effects in different
countries and therefore that the relation between cultural orientation and attitudes
towards whistleblowing cannot be generalized across countries. We also observed a
relatively poor fit between cultural orientation and country of origin, and this highlights
the importance of examining possible explanations for between-country differences
which are not inherently „cultural‟ (Tayeb, 2001). Non-cultural explanations could
include the legal system, labor market, economy etc. Chikudate (2002) offers the
example of the dominance of within-company career progression for Japanese
executives, which means they stake their entire career capital in a single company and
cannot risk losing their jobs if their reporting of wrongdoing is not well-received by the
company. We speculate that an interaction between cultural orientation and non-
cultural aspects of the country may foster specific attitudes on the ways to blow the
whistle, but further work is needed in this area.
As well as contributing to our understanding of the influence of culture and
nationality on whistleblowing, the study also provides some specific results of
immediate relevance to business ethics in practice. We noted above that although all
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 12
three samples showed the same preference on each of the three „choices‟ which the
dimensions capture, the strength of this preference varied. So, organizational systems
for dealing with an employee‟s response to wrongdoing should be based on an
understanding of the impact of nationality and cultural orientation on employees‟
preferred ways to blow the whistle. This has obvious implications for policy and
practice, suggesting as it does that organizations seeking to improve the likelihood of
employees‟ reporting wrongdoing may need to tailor their policies and procedures to a
country-specific context. For example, the results show the general preference for
anonymous over identified whistleblowing is relatively weak in Turkey and the UK, but
much stronger in South Korea, suggesting that developing a channel by which an
employee anonymously reports a wrongdoing would be a particularly effective strategy
in this country. The results could also contribute to education and training intended to
increase cross-cultural awareness on unethical practices
We conclude with a consideration of directions for future research. There are good
grounds for assuming that studies replicating the present research design could be
worthwhile. We noted earlier that culture might influence what gets viewed as
wrongdoing and what is seen as the most appropriate response (e.g. reporting versus
inaction or confrontation). These issues have not been explored in the present paper,
but our findings certainly suggest that this is an area worth investigating. We might
use a short form of the present survey but vary the wrongdoing vignette, and also
examine directly the question of whether respondents believe the individual
encountering the wrongdoing should act at all, and if so, in what manner. We might
also want to broaden the data set by surveying student samples from other countries.
However, if we view the present study as exploratory then our findings suggest we
could usefully attempt to examine the issues more directly – surveying employees rather
than students, and asking directly about their behavioral intentions (rather than their
attitudes towards someone else‟s behavior). We might also explore the possibility of
looking directly at behavior – some multi-national organizations will have well-
developed reporting mechanisms and it may be possible to compare directly the
frequency of reporting, and the preferred route, for sites in a range of countries.
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 13
Whilst wrongdoing in any organization can have significant consequences, it is in
multi-national enterprises that such wrongdoing can have the most far-reaching effects.
The present study has drawn attention to the need for these organizations to be open to
national and cultural differences in the way in which their employees will view and act
upon such wrongdoing, where necessary tailoring organizational policies and
procedures to accommodate these differences.
Whistleblowing and cultural orientation 14
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