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13 Ethical Decision Making: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going


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Research on ethical decision making, or behavioral ethics, in organizations has developed from a small niche area to a burgeoning stand‐alone field, one that has gained not only in number of articles written but in the legitimacy of the topic and the field. Our review motivated us to first try and summarize the field, not by comparing it to existing theoretical paradigms, but rather by observing what the data were telling us. We present our summary in the form of a model of ethical decision making and a typology that distinguishes intentionality of actions from ethicality of actions. After presenting this summary of the data, we critically review the research in this area, noting those areas which offer substantial insight and those that do not. In looking to the future and how the field can enhance the former and mitigate the latter, we identify several areas in which meaningful progress can be made, including defining what is “ethical”, revisiting unsubstantiated assumptions, focusing on the processes of ethical decision making, fixing methodological issues, and disentangling the outcomes of ethical decisions.
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Chapter 13: Ethical Decision Making: Where We've Been and Where We're
Ann E. Tenbrunsel
; Kristin Smith-Crowe
Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame,
David Eccles School of Business, University of
First Published on: 01 August 2008
To cite this Article Tenbrunsel, Ann E. and Smith-Crowe, Kristin(2008)'Chapter 13: Ethical Decision Making: Where We've Been and
Where We're Going',The Academy of Management Annals,2:1,545 — 607
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/19416520802211677
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© 2008 Academy of Management
DOI: 10.1080/19416520802211677
Ethical Decision Making:
Where Weve Been and Where Were Going
Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame
David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah
Taylor and FrancisRAMA_A_321334.sgm10.1080/19416520802211677Academy of Management Annals1941-6520 (print)/1941-6067 (online)Original Article2008Taylor & Francis21000000August
Research on ethical decision making, or behavioral ethics, in organizations has
developed from a small niche area to a burgeoning stand-alone field, one that
has gained not only in number of articles written but in the legitimacy of the
topic and the field. Our review motivated us to first try and summarize the
field, not by comparing it to existing theoretical paradigms, but rather by
observing what the data were telling us. We present our summary in the form
of a model of ethical decision making and a typology that distinguishes inten-
tionality of actions from ethicality of actions. After presenting this summary of
the data, we critically review the research in this area, noting those areas which
offer substantial insight and those that do not. In looking to the future and how
the field can enhance the former and mitigate the latter, we identify several
Corresponding author. Email:
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areas in which meaningful progress can be made, including defining what is
“ethical”, revisiting unsubstantiated assumptions, focusing on the processes of
ethical decision making, fixing methodological issues, and disentangling the
outcomes of ethical decisions.
As evidenced by the number of business ethics articles published (see Table
13.1), the study of ethical decision making has witnessed significant strides
over the last few decades. Indeed, just six years into the current decade we
already see almost three-times the number of articles published since the
previous decade. Advancing from a small niche arena to one that has gained in
both volume and importance in the management field, perhaps most note-
worthy is that the “field” of ethical decision making is now substantial enough
to be the target of two recent and impressive reviews (O’Fallon & Butterfield,
2005; Trevino, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006). This is quite a contrast to an expe-
rience of the first author, who remembers giving a job talk on ethical decision
making in the mid-1990s to a well-respected institution and being asked
“what are you going to do research on when this is no longer a fad?”
While this trend is exciting, it also serves as a wake-up call. Research on
ethical decision making is at a critical juncture. Typical of relatively new fields,
theoretical models are scarce, empirical research has been largely correlational
and exploratory, and critical evaluation is limited. To move the field forward,
what is needed is an overarching understanding of what we know and what we
do not know and where we should go from here.
The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on ethical decision
making in organizations, specifically focusing on behavioral, or descriptive,
ethics, and in doing so highlighting the juncture at which the field finds itself
and charting out the paths that we might take. Our goal is not to repeat what
Table 13.1
Frequencies of Business Ethics Articles by Decade
Years Total Number
of Articles
Number of Articles
1960–1969 0 0
1970–1979 10 0
1980–1989 54 13
1990–1999 160 25
2000–2007 473 33
Note. The final decade listed is not a full decade. The search was conducted through
the PsycInfo Database on March 27, 2008. The search terms included
, and
. The search was limited to articles related to
organizational behavior.
Academy of Management Journal
(established in the
of Management Review
(established in the 1970s).
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Ethical Decision Making
already has been nicely laid out in previous reviews nor is it to simply report
on what has been done in the field of ethical decision making. Rather, we
embarked on this review attempting to identify the skeleton of the story that
exists in the extant literature and to note the holes that have yet to be filled.
Our process was thus inductive in that we sought less to confirm any existing
theoretical frameworks and more to identify the frameworks that arise from
the data. In some sense, what we offer is a “qualitative meta analysis”, one that
identifies key relationships and factors in the ethical decision-making process.
This process led us to the development of a model of ethical decision making
and a typology of dependent variables which summarize both where we’ve
been as a field and where we see the field going. This model and typology
provide the basis of the structure of our paper.
As readers are taken through our review, we expect that they will note that
we are both hopeful and disappointed in the field. Hopeful, as pointed out
previously, by the increased attention to ethics, yet disappointed by the lack of
representation in Academy of Management journals (see Table 13.1). Hopeful
because the variables studied in connection with ethical decision making seem
to be ever-expanding, but disappointed that fundamental concepts remain
undefined and assumptions unsubstantiated. Hopeful that some studies do
rely on theory to make their predictions, yet disappointed that many are still
atheoretical or uni-theoretical, relying on a single theory. Hopeful that there is
some attention to the process underlying ethical decision making, yet disap-
pointed that most research assumes that the process is a reason-based one (in
the traditional sense), thus ignoring the roles of emotions, the subconscious,
and intuition.
In our review, it became readily apparent that one notable void in the field
was a definition of the fundamental concept of “ethical”, an issue that was
important to discuss upfront before reviewing the literature. Following this
discussion, we provide a necessary summary of the studies on which our
review is based. This section is organized by the major categories in our model
(Figure 13.1)—moral awareness, moral decision making and amoral decision
making—with any critique that is specific to those summaries provided in that
section. Where applicable, we separately note recent progress in each of these
areas which may provide new insights. Finally, a more encompassing critique
follows the summary, with recommendations that are designed to address our
noted criticisms rounding out the review.
Figure 13.1 Model of Ethical Decision Making.
Before turning to the summary, it is important to note that we focused our
review on behavioral, or descriptive, ethics within the domain of business ethics,
but we draw from work in other fields as well, especially psychology. We cannot
claim to provide an exhaustive review of ethical decision making in organiza-
tions, much less the relevant work in other areas, yet what we do present is our
best effort at documenting the significant developments in the field in the last
several decades, particularly those that apply to an organizational context.
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We recognize that in documenting these developments we cannot be purely
objective, but rather the story we tell is colored by our judgment and biased by
our perspectives. We are not naïve observers of a phenomenon novel to us; we
have some well-defined ideas about the process of ethical decision making in
organizations. We attempted to operate outside of the influence of our precon-
ceived notions as much as possible by starting out with a blank theoretical slate,
but we realize that to do so completely is impossible.
But First, What is “Ethical”?
Before we can proceed, the terms at the crux of this review—ethical, or moral—
need to be discussed. Of all noted criticisms, the lack of definitions for these
terms (which we use interchangeably) is without a doubt the most crucial, for
without a universal understanding of the core dependent variable, research will
remain inconsistent, incoherent and atheoretical. Many studies we reviewed
made no attempt to define it, even those entailing theory-building. As Jones
noted (1991, pp. 367–368), “Some authors, including Ferrell and Gresham
(1985), Trevino (1986), Hunt and Vitell (1986), and Dubinsky and Loken
(1989) did not provide substantive definitions of the terms ethical and unethi-
cal”. Like many social science researchers, Ferrell and Gresham (1985) made it
clear that such a definition is not within the scope of their paper, stating:
Thus, no attempt is made here to judge what is ethical or unethical (the
content of the behavior). Our concern is with the
Figure 13.1 Model of Ethical Decision Making.
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decision making behavior which is ultimately defined as ethical/unethi-
cal by participants and observers. Rather than advocate a particular
moral doctrine, we examine contexts and variables that determine ethi-
cal decisions in the managerial process. (p. 88)
Warren and Smith-Crowe (forthcoming) put the problem faced by researchers
like this:
As social scientists, we are concerned with describing and predicting
what people think, perceive, and do; generally we are not in the business
of telling people what they should do. The catch, however, is that while
behavioral ethics is descriptive rather than prescriptive, good social
science requires a thorough understanding and definition of one’s
constructs—researchers only want to predict and describe ethical behav-
ior, but in doing so, they must define what is ethical, and, therefore, they
must be in some sense prescriptive. (pp. 9–10)
Thus is the distinction between descriptive (or behavioral) approaches to
ethics versus normative approaches: the goal of the former is to study what
people do, and the goal of the latter is to construct argument regarding what
There are a few brave researchers of behavioral ethics, however, who do
attempt a definition. Rest (1986) provided a very specific definition: “when the
term ‘morality’ is used throughout this book, we intend to refer to a particular
type of social value, that having to do with how humans cooperate and coor-
dinate their activities in the service of furthering human welfare, and how they
adjudicate conflicts among individual interests” (p. 3). Jones (1991) offered
this definition:
An ethical decision is a decision that is both legally and morally accept-
able to the larger community. Conversely, an unethical decision is a deci-
sion that is either illegal or morally unacceptable to the larger
community. This definition follows from Kelman and Hamilton’s (1989)
definition of crimes of obedience and is consistent with the definitions
used, either explicitly or implicitly, by some other authors in the field of
ethics. (p. 367)
At the same time, however, Jones (1991) notes the difficulty in attempting
such a definition, stating that “the definition is admittedly imprecise and rela-
tivistic” (p. 367). Trevino et al. (2006) provided this definition:
…behavioral ethics refers to individual behavior that is subject to or
judged according to generally accepted moral norms of behavior. Thus,
research on behavioral ethics is primarily concerned with explaining indi-
vidual behavior that occurs in the context of larger social prescriptions.
Within this body of work some researchers have focused specifically on
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unethical behaviors, such as lying, cheating, and stealing. Others have
focused on ethical behavior defined as those acts that reach some minimal
moral standard and are therefore not unethical, such as honesty or
obeying the law. Still others have focused on ethical behavior defined as
behaviors that exceed moral minimums such as charitable giving and
whistle-blowing. Our definition accounts for all three areas of study.
Furthermore, our definition allows for a liberal consideration of existing
research, and thus our review considers a broader range of topics than
recent reviews. (p. 952)
Helpfully, Trevino et al. (2006) enumerated examples of unethical behavior,
yet none of these definitions in and of themselves truly explicate the content of
what is ethical. Largely they rely on the specification of consensus, the unfortu-
nate disadvantage of which is that groups of people can accept the most atro-
cious and horrendous things as noted throughout history. In contrast to this
approach are theories that specify
a priori
principles. For instance, Kant’s
(1785/1964) “respect principle” says that people should never be treated
merely as means, but always as ends in themselves. This principle provides
content: it is ethical to respect individuals and it is unethical to disrespect indi-
viduals. Bowie (1999), in his discussion of how one can apply Kant’s respect
principle within a business context, noted two components of respect: render-
ing people fully informed and being concerned about their physical well-being.
As an example, one could take Kant’s respect principle and apply it to the issue
of worker safety to discern the ethical obligation of employers (Smith-Crowe,
2004). The implication regarding worker safety is that employees must be fully
informed of the hazards present in their workplaces as well as what measures
can be taken to avoid them and what steps can be taken in the event of acci-
dents, injuries, or illnesses produced by workplace hazards. Further, employers
must do their best to shield employees from inevitable workplace hazards
through engineering controls and so forth. To “skimp” on workplace safety
(e.g., in order to raise profit margins) and to thereby disrespect employees
would be unethical. Knowing what specific behaviors entail respect and what
behaviors do not (in this case, what specifically entails “skimping” and what
entails an honest attempt to shield workers from inevitable hazards), admit-
tedly is a difficulty (cf. Warren & Smith-Crowe, forthcoming), yet such a
principle gets us much closer to understanding the terms “ethical” and “moral”
than do definitions that do not include content.
The avoidance of providing a definition of ethical behavior (and one with
content), and the resulting lack of consensus when definitions are attempted
to be provided is as understandable as it is unacceptable. In attempting to
establish itself as a solid science, the business discipline has borrowed from the
fundamental tenet of determinism found in the natural sciences, removing
intentionality, and correspondingly ethics and morality, from theoretical
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frameworks (Ghoshal, 2005). While that may make sense for the study of
physical entities, like cells, which do not have the capability of making value-
laden judgments, it does not make sense for the study of management, which
is embedded with human intentionality and managerial choice (Ghoshal,
2005). Management involves decisions that impact others, and thus it is a
moral activity. Ignoring the normative dimension of management by hiding
behind the guise of “true scholarly work” is, consciously or subconsciously,
signaling that normative considerations should not be incorporated into
research and subsequently into managers’ everyday decisions. Such a “value-
less” position should be recognized, however, as being itself value-laden for
underlying such an assumption is the notion that values have no place in
the field, and more particularly, in the study of ethical decision making. As
Sandelands (2007) stated, “The MBA teaches that business is essentially prag-
matic, motivated by what works. This pragmatism is its own morality” (p. 10).
By not seriously addressing the “normative” in values, we are promoting a
non-normative morality, suggesting that such considerations are irrelevant to
the study of business and ethics.
Thus, the ethics field is in a quandary. If we don’t believe it is important to
define what an ethical decision is, or don’t believe that it’s our place to do so,
then we are a field without meaning. If we do believe that such a definition is
necessary, then we have no choice but to motivate an understanding of what
the normative basis of those values should be and how “ethical” should be mea-
sured. Such an understanding is really a call for a bridge to be built between
the normative and descriptive fields of business ethics. This call to the man-
agement field echoes that in the marketing discipline, which has been criticized
for ignoring the true meaning of morality and is now being called to elevate
itself to a higher ground (Mick, 2006). By nature of the objective of this
paper—to review the field of ethics—and our backgrounds, we cannot resolve
this issue in this manuscript. We do, however, have fields waiting to help,
namely moral philosophy and theology. Moral philosophers construct system-
atic theories of normative ethics, the crux of which is a definition of the term
“ethical”. Deontological theories that define right and wrong in terms of
a pri-
principles seem particularly useful for classifying dependent variables as
ethical or not as they would seem to provide a construct definition that would
not change across contexts (e.g., see Kant, 1785/1964; Rawls, 1999). Others
have made compelling arguments for the role of religion in contributing to this
definition: “For organization studies, it might mean that there are lessons to
draw from theology—the study of God…[for]God’s laws are not simply laws
of nature; they are laws of conduct” (Sandelands, 2003, p. 8–9). We can see this
as an opportunity for multi-disciplinarian work, engaging the business, philo-
sophical and theological fields, or we can hide behind the shibboleth that real
social scientists “don’t do” normative work. In contemplating this question, it
should be recognized that attempting to remain “value-free” as a discipline will
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leave scholars in the field of ethics both uninterested and unequipped to define
their main dependent variable and will leave the field of ethics much the same:
uninteresting and unequipped.
Noting the seriousness of a fundamental definitional problem within the
field of ethical decision making in organizations—specifically that of behav-
ioral ethics—in what follows, we lay out our review. We begin with a summary
of our findings, presented in the form of a model of ethical decision making
and a typology of its outcomes. Following that presentation, we proceed with
a discussion of moral awareness, a key juncture in ethical decision making,
after which we discuss the research on moral and amoral decision-making
processes that follow from its presence or absence accordingly. In these dis-
cussions we attempt to note what has been done and what progress has been
made. Finally, after recapping, we discuss the future. We suggest strategies for
building on what we know and we speculate as to the truly new insights yet to
Summary of Findings: A Model and a Typology
A summary of our review is presented in a model of ethical decision making
depicted in Figure 13.1. Our review uncovered three important components
in ethical decision making: moral awareness, moral decision making, and
amoral decision making. Crucial in understanding what drives ethical deci-
sion making is knowing whether decision makers are morally aware. If they
are, decision makers engage in “moral decision making”. If they are not,
individuals engage in what we term “amoral decision making”. At a glance,
our model may seem similar to others that have been developed. Certainly,
as one would hope, there are many overlaps between what others have theo-
rized and cited as important advances in the field and our own assessment.
There are, however, several key differences—differences that we think have
significant implications for future research in the field of ethical decision
First, we ignore the temptation to use existing theories to guide our analy-
sis. While others have noted the need to “move beyond Rest’s framework”
(O’Fallon & Butterfield, 2005), the previous reviews were nonetheless struc-
tured around that framework. We started without a preconceived theory,
attempting instead to understand what the data and theory were telling us.
Second, we highlight the importance of considering the perspective of the
decision maker, in the form of decision frames, which we use as a way to fur-
ther develop the concept of moral awareness and the lack thereof. Drawing on
perspectives that stress the importance of considering the type of situation
with which decision makers feel that they are faced (March, 1995; Messick,
1999), we argue that decision frames theoretically inform moral awareness.
How decision makers construe the dilemmas before them is critical to whether
decision makers achieve moral awareness or not. Under the influence of an
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ethics frame, decision makers are morally aware. Under the influence of other
frames (e.g., a business frame or a legal frame), however, decision makers are
not morally aware. Importantly, rather than utilizing a dichotomous construct
in which all situations of moral unawareness are treated synonymously, we
argue that moral unawareness can stem from different frames. Recognizing
and identifying which frame is adopted is crucial to understanding and
predicting ethical and unethical decisions. Thus, our perspective not only
incorporates the concept of moral awareness but substantially adds to our
understanding of decisions made when decision makers are morally unaware.
A third key difference between our perspective and those laid out in other
theoretical frameworks and reviews is our incorporation of amoral decision
making alongside of moral decision making. Like others (e.g., Jones, 1991;
Rest, 1986), we see moral awareness as a crucial point in moral decision mak-
ing. However, we argue that moral awareness, rather than being a prerequisite
that guarantees ethical decisions, simply serves as a point of departure
whereby the decision-making process can be characterized as either moral
or amoral and the outcomes of either decision process as either ethical or
unethical, moral dimensions are part of the decision-making process, whereas
in amoral decision making, they are not. Though the distinction is simple, the
implications are not. While some have simply discarded situations of moral
unawareness as outliers, we argue that they constitute a very important part of
the field of ethical decision making; likewise, while others have argued that
ethical decision making is best understood as good people unintentionally
making bad decisions, we believe that the research on moral decision making
offers value. “Good” and “bad” people make “good” and “bad” decisions;
sometimes they are aware that the decisions they are making have ethical
implications and other times they are not.
The distinction between process and the ethicality of decisions led to our
typology of outcomes presented in Table 13.2. This typology, which distin-
guishes between intentionality and ethicality, is derived from both the need to
bridge the gap between descriptive and normative approaches to ethics and
the recognition that understanding the decision maker’s perspective along
with the normative consequences of their actions are both crucial to enhanc-
ing our knowledge of ethical decision making. Distinguishing between the
process that produced the decision (moral or amoral decision making) and
the decision that resulted (ethical or unethical) produces four different
outcomes—intended ethicality, unintended ethicality, intended unethicality,
and unintended unethicality. To illustrate these categories, take the case of a
manager in an organization who is responsible for new product development
in an automotive firm. One of the new products she is working on involves a
new engine which will result in significant savings in the production process
but is associated with some significant worker safety concerns; it is her
responsibility to provide a recommendation on whether to recommend this
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new design to manufacturing. Further assume that the ethical choice is to not
produce the engine (e.g., on the basis that producing the engine violates Kant’s
[1785/1964] respect principle [cf. Smith-Crowe, 2004]). If the safety hazards
trigger moral awareness in the manager, then her decision, regardless of what
it is, will be the result of a moral decision process because she recognizes the
moral stakes in the situation. Given her moral awareness, if the manager
decides not to produce the engine because of the safety concerns, despite its
financial promise, she is making an “intentionally ethical” decision; if she rec-
ommends production of the engine, despite the noted dangers, she is making
an “intentionally unethical” decision. If, however, the safety concerns regard-
ing the engine fail to register to the manager as being ethically relevant, then
her decision-making process would be characterized as “amoral” because she
does not recognize the moral stakes in the situation—in this case we might
imagine that she is likely to approach the problem within a business frame. If
the manager recommends against production of the engines, not because of
any knowledge of safety problems, but for different reasons (e.g., the raw
materials for the new design are difficult to obtain), the manager’s decision is
“unintentionally ethical”. If the manager recommends that the engines be pro-
duced, say for example because the profit potential is so large, the manager’s
decision is “unintentionally unethical”.
Thus, in our typology, all major pathways lead to ethical and unethical
decisions. The moral decision making that follows from moral awareness can
result in unethical decisions as well as ethical ones; likewise, the amoral deci-
sion making that follows from moral unawareness can lead to ethical decisions
as well as unethical ones. The introduction of this typology of outcomes and
intentionality not only provides a structure for our review of ethical decision
making, but it also should be of value to the field itself, promoting researchers
positioning their work within a broader framework, rather than operating
within isolated camps.
What we hope these differences offer are new insights into the field of eth-
ical decision making. We do not just review the studies, we offer our model of
the process of ethical decision making. We do not take existing classifications,
we introduce new ones that seem to capture the work that has been done and
Table 13.2
Typology of Dependent Variables
Moral Decision Making Amoral Decision Making
Intended Ethicality Unintended Ethicality
Intended Unethicality or
Unintended Unethicality
Unintended Unethicality
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the work that should be done. In doing so, we hope to supplement what has
been noted in previous research and reviews to move the field forward both
empirically and theoretically.
Moral Awareness
Our model begins with moral awareness. We argue that a critical component
of ethical decision making is predicated on whether decision makers are
morally aware. If they are, decision makers engage in a process that we have
termed “moral decision making”; if they are not morally aware, “amoral deci-
sion making” occurs. Moral awareness has played a critical role in existing
models of ethical decision making. It occupies a prominent role in Rest’s
(1986) model of moral decision making, asserting its place as the initial
construct in the offered framework. Similarly, Hunt and Vitell’s (1986) model
of ethical decision making assumes that a marketer must first perceive a situa-
tion to contain an ethical issue or problem before the ethical decision-making
process is enacted: “If the individual does not perceive some ethical content in
a problem situation, subsequent elements of the model do not come into play”
(Hunt & Vitell, 1986, p. 761).
Theoretical and Methodological Issues
Given its central role in our model, it is important to understand the construct
of moral awareness. Rest (1986) who is credited with this construct, described
the process of becoming morally aware as “identifying what we can in a partic-
ular situation, figuring out what the consequences to all parties would be for
each line of action, and identifying and trying to understand our own gut feel-
ings on the matter” (p. 3). Rest further stated that in order to achieve moral
awareness, “the person must have been able to make some sort of interpreta-
tion of the particular situation in terms of what actions were possible, who
(including oneself) would be affected by each course of action, and how the
interested parties would regard such effects on their welfare” (1986, p. 7).
Despite the importance accorded to moral awareness, the measurement
of this construct is notably problematic. Most fundamental to this problem
is that while most examinations of moral awareness rely on Rest’s (1986)
model as a theoretical platform for their investigation, a more restrictive def-
inition of moral awareness is used than Rest seems to have intended. These
studies assume that for decision makers to be morally aware, they must per-
ceive the decision as a moral one. Rest (1986), however, made no such
assumption: “A person may say to her/himself, ‘This is a moral problem’ or
may think about some specific moral norm or principle that applies to the
case. But this is neither necessary nor inevitable. Minimally… a person real-
izes that she/he could do something that would affect the interests, welfare,
or expectations of other people” (p. 5). Thus, Rest assumed a much broader
interpretation of moral awareness than do the studies that have followed.
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Which interpretation is correct is up for debate, but the discrepancy between
Rest’s intention and the empirical studies that have relied on Rest’s work
should be noted.
In addition to this restricted definition, the measurement of it also raises
some concern. Moral awareness is most often measured by directly asking par-
ticipants whether an issue presents an ethical dilemma, thus introducing the
possibility of a moral dimension that might not have been perceived had the
question not been asked (Reynolds, 2006b; Trevino et al., 2006). Participants,
for example, have been asked whether scenarios present an ethical issue
(Cherry, Lee, & Chien, 2003), whether a tax situation involved an ethical issue
or problem (Fleischman & Valentine, 2003), whether a situation has ethical
implications (Blodgett, Lu, Rose, & Vitell, 2001), and whether vignettes have
any ethical content (Singhapakdi, Marta, Rallapalli, & Rao, 2000).
It is not clear from most of the research on moral awareness then whether
even the more restricted definition of moral awareness has actually been mea-
sured. As Clarkeburn (2002) argued, most of the measures are more reflective
of the ethical importance of an issue (cf. Jones, 1991) rather than the actual
awareness of an issue. Clarkeburn (2002) attempted to address the issues asso-
ciated with the “tick-a-box” problem by presenting participants with scenarios
(i.e., creating a genetically-engineered cow in order to obtain a certain type of
milk used for the treatment of cystic fibrosis) and asking them to identify the
major issues that they would need to consider before making a decision; moral
awareness was then inferred from the list of issues that were identified. This
methodology was similar to that used previously by Yetmar and Eastman
(2000), who presented subjects with scenarios involving tax breaches and
asked participants to state any issues of concern and the significance of the
discovered issue.
Despite the noted methodological and theoretical complexities, a great
deal of research has been conducted on moral awareness, especially on predic-
tors of awareness. In what follows, we summarize this research. In doing so,
we report research that uses all measures; however, we do so with a cautionary
note of their problematic nature. With that in mind, a review of the research
identifies several different factors that have been aligned with moral aware-
ness, factors which we have placed into either “individual” or “situational”
Correlates of Moral Awareness: Individual Factors
Studies of gender and moral awareness are mixed, with some
studies showing no effect (Fleishman & Valentine, 2003; Hegarty & Sims,
1978; Singhapakdi & Vitell, 1991) and others demonstrating that females are
more morally aware (Ameen, Guffey, & McMillan, 1996; Bebeau & Brabeck,
1987; Chonko & Hunt, 1985; Singhapakdi, Rao, & Vitell, 1996). Chonko and
Hunt’s (1985) study of marketing management professionals, for example,
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revealed that female marketers were more likely to perceive ethical problems
than male marketers.
Nationality and culture.
There is spotty evidence that nationality and
culture may play a role in moral awareness. Cherry et al. (2003), utilizing a
scenario in which payment of a bribe was being considered in order to gain
access to a lucrative Asian market, found that US respondents were more likely
to indicate that the scenario presented an ethical issue than were Taiwanese
respondents. Noting the potential conflict between culture and nationality,
other studies are useful for attempting to disentangle these similar yet indepen-
dent effects. Blodgett et al. (2001), for example, used Hofstede’s (1980) theory
on national culture to compare US and Taiwenese sales agents. Results revealed
that uncertainty avoidance was positively related and power distance and indi-
vidualism/masculinity negatively related to ethical sensitivity: US agents were
more likely to perceive ethical issues associated with their colleagues’ behavior
while Taiwenese agents were more likely to perceive ethical issues associated
with their companies’ or competitors’ agents. However, while Hofstede’s
cultural dimensions fully explained the variance in two of the four scenarios,
nationality had a separate effect in the other two scenarios. The importance of
nationality as an independent effect on moral awareness, above and beyond
Hofstede’s dimension of culture, is also underscored in Singhapakdi, Karande,
Rao, and Vitell’s (2001) comparison of Australians and Americans, from coun-
tries which they argued to be “cultural cousins” due to their similar alignment
on Hofstede’s dimensions. Despite these similarities, they still found some
differences in moral awareness, with Americans more likely to indicate that
scenarios involving the withholding of information and the misleading of an
appraiser involved an ethical problem than their Australian counterparts
(though no differences were found in two other scenarios).
Ethical experience.
A number of studies that have investigated the influ-
ence of individual differences on moral awareness seem to be attempting to
capture the effect of what we have roughly termed “ethical experience”.
Included in this category are those variables that might affect one’s experience
with ethical dilemmas, such as religion, age, ethics training, and professional
and educational experience. Like the studies on gender and moral awareness,
the results of these studies are varied. In a study of marketing services profes-
sionals, Singhapakdi et al. (1996) demonstrated that, in comparison with
younger professionals, older professionals were more likely to recognize the
moral issue in a scenario involving a retailer who withheld information about
a discontinued china pattern from the consumer (there was, however, no effect
of age in the other three scenarios included in that study: an automobile service
repair center that made minor adjustments to fix a car until the warranty
expired; a salesperson who over-exaggerated the value of the product the
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salesperson was selling; and overcharging customers in a lower socioeconomic
region). Religion also appears to play a role with individuals who indicated that
religious values were important (“Spiritual values are more important than
material things”) being more likely to identify the ethical content of scenarios
(Singhapakdi, Marta, et al., 2000).
Training appears to have a mixed effect on moral awareness. Clarkeburn
(2002) found that while science education
per se
had no effect on ethical sen-
sitivity, short discussion groups on ethics (i.e., three 2-hour discussions) did
increase the recognition of moral issues. More recently, Castleberry (2007)
found that having business students visit a prison to hear the stories of white-
collar criminals increased their awareness of moral issues in marketing.
Others have investigated the impact of professional and educational expe-
rience on moral awareness. Though they do not speak to ethical experience
per se
, these variables do pertain to individuals’ perceived experiences with
their jobs and their professions which may in turn be related to ethical experi-
ence. While several studies (i.e., Cohen, Pant & Sharp, 2001; Karcher, 1996;
Yetmar & Eastman, 2000) have investigated whether professional (i.e., student
versus professional) and educational experience (i.e., entering versus graduat-
ing students) influence awareness of a moral dilemma, most have not revealed
significant results. One exception is a study by Sparks and Hunt (1998) who
found that marketing research practitioners were more morally aware than
students; another is by Cohen et al. (2001), who found that professional
accountants viewed some actions as less ethical than graduate students.
Bebeau (1994) found that ethical sensitivity increased as a function of educa-
tion within the dentistry profession (i.e., dentists versus hygienists); however,
Sparks and Hunt (1998) found a negative relationship between amount of for-
mal training in college and in one’s career and ethical sensitivity in marketing
research practitioners. Swenson-Lepper (2005) found that ethical sensitivity
was higher among those with more general education and Yetmar and East-
man (2000) also found that two variables related to people’s experience with
their jobs—role conflict and job satisfaction—influenced moral awareness,
with role conflict being negatively associated and job satisfaction positively
associated with ethical sensitivity.
Affect and arousal.
While positive affect and arousal have been argued to
increase moral sensitivity (Gaudine & Thorne, 2001) and many have argued
for the study of this relationship (i.e., see Trevino et al., 2006) there is little
empirical research on this important topic. The closest study is that conducted
by Yetmar and Eastman (2000), who found that job satisfaction, an affective-
laden state, was positively related to ethical sensitivity.
Values and orientations.
One’s ethical orientation appears to be an impor-
tant consideration in moral awareness. Utilitarians (those whose moral
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judgments are based on the consequences of actions) were found to be less
ethically sensitive than formalists (i.e., individuals who employ deontological,
or principle-based, ethics) in the domain of violations of behavioral norms
(Reynolds, 2006b). Similarly, relativism and idealism were found to be associ-
ated with lower levels of moral awareness (Shaub, Finn & Munter, 1993; Sparks
& Hunt, 1998). Singhapakdi et al. (1996) also found that marketing profession-
als who adhered to a high standard of professional values were more likely to
recognize ethical issues or problems than those whose standards were lower.
Moral disengagement.
Drawing on Bandura’s (1990a, 1990b) work on
dehumanization, research has begun to focus on the individual propensity to
morally disengage from the ethical aspects of a decision. Individuals are
argued to differ in their tendency to cognitively reframe their actions, their
role within them, or their effects on others which impacts not only moral
awareness but subsequent moral judgment (Detert, Trevino, & Sweitzer, 2008;
Moore, 2007). Such reframing is argued to interrupt the self-regulation that
promotes ethical behavior, in turn dampening moral awareness (Bandura,
1990a, 1990b; Detert et al., 2008; Moore, 2007).
An examination of the research that has investigated the
impact of individual factors on moral awareness paints an incomplete and
confusing picture, with some factors more consistent in their influence on
moral awareness than others. While some studies show that gender and
nationality do lead to greater moral awareness among decision makers, others
do not. The research on values and orientations, ethical experience and moral
disengagement, however, is more consistent and hence offers more promise in
providing explanatory power. These differences in robustness are not surpris-
ing when one considers the strength of the theoretical rationale behind the
investigated connections. Values, orientations, ethical experience and moral
disengagement are theoretically closer to notions of morality, and by exten-
sion to moral awareness, than are gender and nationality, leading to more
robust results. While it is possible that gender and nationality are significantly
related to moral decision making, it is reasonable to assume that this relation-
ship is mediated by underlying mechanisms, such as a cognitive focus on
others, that are more closely aligned with ethical dimensions. Mixed findings
on moral awareness may thus be due more to a lack of theoretical specification
and investigation than to the actual strength of a relationship.
Correlates of Moral Awareness: Situational Factors
Going beyond the individual factors are the situational factors that influence
moral awareness. The contextual features within which a decision is made
occupy a prominent place in current theoretical models of ethical decision
making (i.e., see reviews by O’Fallon & Butterfield [2005] and Trevino et al.
[2006]). In the following sections we discuss the two situational features that
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have been shown to have the most consistent effect on ethical behavior: issue
intensity and ethical infrastructure.
Issue intensity.
Originally conceived and theorized by Jones (1991), issues
are argued to vary in their moral intensity, “… a construct that captures the
extent of issue-related moral imperative in a situation” (p. 372). Jones (1991)
identified six components of moral intensity: magnitude of consequences,
concentration of effect, probability of effect, temporal immediacy, social
consensus, and proximity. Each of these components is argued to increase
moral intensity; for example, in the case of the magnitude of consequences, an
unethical act that harms 10,000 people is more morally intense than an uneth-
ical act that harms 10 people. Not surprisingly, moral intensity and moral
awareness are posited to be positively correlated, such that “issues of high
moral intensity will be recognized as moral issues more frequently than will
issues of low intensity” (Jones, 1991, p. 383).
Research on these dimensions indicates fairly robust support for the influ-
ence of moral intensity on moral awareness, although results are somewhat
sporadic in terms of which specific components are investigated and found to
be predictive of awareness. Singhapakdi, Vitell, and Kraft (1996), for example,
found that all six components were related to the recognition of an ethical prob-
lem among marketing researchers, whereas Dukerich, Waller, George, and
Huber (2000) found a relationship with four of five dimensions of moral inten-
sity (i.e., the magnitude of consequences, social consensus, proximity, and the
concentration of effect). Marshall and Dewe (1997) found that social consensus
and the magnitude of consequences were the only dimensions of issue intensity
that individuals referred to in their descriptions of moral issues. In a study of
competitive intelligence practitioners, Butterfield, Treviño, and Weaver (2000)
investigated two components, the magnitude of consequences and probability
of harm, and found that they both significantly influenced moral awareness.
Davis, Johnson, and Ohmer (1998) found that social consensus was useful in
explaining moral concern, whereas May and Pauli (2002) found that the prob-
able magnitude of harm, not social consensus, was helpful.
Ethical infrastructure.
Numerous studies of moral awareness fall under
the umbrella of “ethical infrastructure” which Tenbrunsel, Smith-Crowe, and
Umphress (2003) defined as the organizational climates, informal systems
(communication, surveillance, and sanctioning), and formal systems (commu-
nication, surveillance, and sanctioning) that are relevant to ethics in an organi-
zation. One aspect of that context, ethical climate (Victor & Cullen, 1988), has
been found to impact levels of moral awareness, with benevolence and princi-
ple ethical climates leading to more moral awareness, and egoistic ethical
climates leading to lower levels of moral awareness (VanSandt, 2003). Another
piece of the ethical infrastructure, codes of ethics, which belong to the formal
systems of organizations, was also found to lead to moral awareness (Weaver
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& Treviño, 1999). Finally, the more informal aspects of ethical infrastructure
have been demonstrated to influence moral awareness. Individuals were more
likely to perceive the moral aspects of the decision when the environment was
characterized by competitive business practices, a finding explained by the
possibility that a highly competitive atmosphere raises one’s “moral antennae”,
thus sensitizing individuals to moral issues (Butterfield et al., 2000). Moreover,
Tenbrunsel and Messick (2004) argued that the situational cues, found in the
formal systems, informal systems and organizational climates, are instrumen-
tal in the “ethical fading” process, a process by which a person does not realize
that the decision he or she is making has ethical implications, in turn leading
to a lack of moral awareness. In particular, they argued that euphemistic
language (Bandura, 1999) and previous incidents of unethical decisions
decrease the likelihood that decision makers will attain moral awareness.
Research on the impact of situational factors on moral aware-
ness, while not painting a complete picture, appears to offer more than the
current studies on individual factors. The moral intensity of the issue and the
ethical infrastructure in which the decision takes place seem to possess some
degree of predictive validity. In combination, we posit that these variables
speak to the salience of the ethical dilemma, influenced by the perception of
the type of decision, or decision frame, at hand. A discussion of the more
encompassing construct of decision frames, which we argue informs the
concept of moral awareness, follows.
Progress on Moral Awareness: Decision Frames as an Expansion of the
Construct Domain
We have argued that ethical decision making begins with moral awareness.
Moral awareness is necessary to consider, for it tells us whether ethical and
unethical outcomes arose from moral or amoral decision-making processes.
We hold by our ascription that moral awareness is central to the process, and
we recognize, by a review of the number of others who have studied this
construct, that we are not the first to make this assertion. Our review of the
field, however, leads to the identification of a promising insight into the
concept of moral awareness, namely that of decision frames. A decision frame
refers to the type of decision that individuals believe that they are making—
how it is that they have coded or categorized the decision (Tenbrunsel &
Messick, 2004). If a decision is coded as an ethical one, ethical considerations
will be part of the decision process; conversely if the decision is coded as a
business decision or a legal decision, other considerations such as profit or
compliance might be more central to the decision process. By highlighting a
multi-dimensional construct, decision frames, to represent the construal of the
decision, we expand the traditionally dichotomous categorization induced by
moral awareness (i.e., “is the decision maker morally aware or not?”). Knowing
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that an individual perceives a decision as ethical provides insight into whether
the decision maker is morally aware, which in turn is vital for providing insight
into the moral decision-making process that ensues. However, knowing the
flip-side, namely that the decision maker is unaware, is of less help. Research
on ethical decision making has focused on only one decision frame, namely
whether the decision maker sees it as an ethical one. In doing so, this research
has obscured valuable information on the process that ensues when the deci-
sion maker is not morally aware. As we will argue in the section on amoral deci-
sion making, in the absence of moral awareness, it becomes very important to
know the decision frame that will structure the subsequent decision-making
process. For now, we will shift from the reporting of what has been done on
moral awareness so as to introduce the concept of decision frames more fully
to the field, and more particularly, to moral awareness.
Our discussion of decision frames begins with a theory of decision making
and the “logic of appropriateness” framework (March 1995; Messick, 1999);
this work has its roots in many related theories, including “naturalistic decision
making” theories (Connolley & Koput, 1997), image theory (Beach, 1993),
explanation-based theories (Pennington & Hastie, 1988), situation-matching
theories (Klein, 1989; Noble, 1989), adaptive decision-making theory (Payne,
Bettman, & Johnson, 1993), and interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut,
1978). Drawing on these theories, March (1995) identified three relevant
components in the decision making process: appropriateness, identity, and
rule-based decision processes. In the initial appropriateness phase, decision
makers first identify the type of situation (i.e., is it a competitive one? Is it
an ethical one?) with which they are faced. The second dimension, identity, is
predicated on the premise that an individual’s identity is an important predic-
tor of how that person will respond within that situation, suggesting that two
people in the same situation, but with different identities, may respond very
differently. Rule-based decision logics, the third phase, is based on the premise
that individuals base their choice of action on rules appropriate for that
situation and for their identity (versus outcomes); in other words, they ask
themselves the question “how does somebody like me behave in this type of
situation?” (see, for instance, the work on moral identity, e.g., Aquino & Reed
Drawing on and extending the ideas of March (1995), Messick (1999)
proposed a view of decision making that he termed an “alternative logic of
decision making in social contexts”. This perspective is based on the primacy
of the type of situation a decision maker perceives he or she is faced with,
such that an individual’s determination of the type of situation subsequently
influences behavior, norms, and expectations. Messick (1999) used the results
of experimental research to support his claims. He argued, for example, that
procedure effects, in which different outcomes are obtained simply by varying
the order of the experimental procedure, cannot be explained by traditional
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utility outcome measures since the outcomes do not change. Instead, what
explains behavior is the type of situation in which decision makers see
Boles and Messick (1990) provided support for this notion in a study of
ultimatum bargaining games involving two players: one who played the role of
the “allocator” and the other the role of “recipient”. The allocator was given a
certain amount of money to divide between himself and the recipient; if the
recipient accepted the offer, the allocator and recipient received the amounts
offered by the allocator, but if the recipient rejected the offer, both the alloca-
tor and recipient received $0. Boles and Messick (1990) found that recipients
were more likely to accept an unfair allocation (less to themselves and more to
the allocators) when they were first given the amount allocated to them and
then given an explanation as to the ultimatum game procedure than they were
if they first were given the explanation and then the allocation. They explained
these results by suggesting that these differences in the order of the procedure
influenced perceptions of “good” and “bad”—when given the money first, the
situation was coded positively by the participants as suddenly they had more
money than they had before, but, when given the instructions first and then
the money, the unfairness of the allocation was salient and the situation was
construed as “bad”. Similar results by van den Bos, Lind, and Wilke (1997),
who found that manipulating the order of procedural versus outcome infor-
mation influenced fairness judgments, are used to suggest that situational
features dictate the construal which in turn influences behavior. Other situa-
tional features, in addition to presentation order, are identified as important
influences in the construal ascribed to a particular situation, including labels,
metaphors, the timing of decisions, and the manner in which mental accounts
are created (Tenbrunsel & Messick, 2004). The label ascribed to the first per-
son in a resource dilemma (i.e., supervisor versus leader or guide; Samuelson
& Allison, 1994), the use of verbs such as “claim” versus “accept or reject”
(Larrick & Blount, 1997), and the positioning of the resources as monetary
versus as social goods (Pillutla & Chen, 1999) all have been found to influence
behavior and the degree of self-interest exhibited in the choice, even though
the outcome or consequences remained identical.
Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999) provided direct evidence of the influence
of decision frames on behavior in an ethical context. Investigating the impact
of a sanctioning system on cooperation in a social dilemma, they found that
the presence of a such a system influenced the decision maker’s construal of
the situation: when no sanctioning system was present, the majority of the
individuals viewed the decision as an ethical one, but when a sanctioning sys-
tem was present, the majority of the participants viewed the situation as one
involving a business decision. These decision frames in turn impacted behav-
ior, such that there was significantly less cooperation when the situation was
construed as a business versus ethical decision.
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Messick (1999) argued that these types of findings are difficult to reconcile
with the more traditional utility calculation models and that our understand-
ing of behavior can be greatly improved if we consider the type of decision
that is perceived by the decision maker. Ethical decisions, in particular, are
argued to be best understood within this perspective:
Part of my interest in pursuing this line of thought comes from research
that my students and I have done over the past decade or so on heuristic
decision processes especially in contexts that have an ethical or moral
tinge. I think that these are situations that are far more common than
we often realize, and, as I have argued elsewhere (Messick, 1993), I
think our responses in these situations are often rooted in shallow rules,
habitual rituals, and other processes… (Messick, 1999, p. 15)
We agree and believe that an understanding of the type of decision which
that they are making is critical to interpreting the research
on ethical decision making and, ultimately, to understanding the ethical
decision-making process (cf. Sonenshein, 2007).
The benefit of a consideration of the type of decision frame is highlighted
by the two-stage “signaling-processing” model developed by Tenbrunsel and
Messick (1999). They argued that the situational context determines the type
of frame with which an individual perceives the decision, and that the frame
determines the unique processing that occurs within that frame. In a similar
vein, we assert that if individuals perceive that they are making an ethical
decision, the processing that occurs within that frame is characterized by what
we term “moral decision making”. If the decision is not perceived through an
ethical frame, but rather is viewed through another type of frame (e.g., a legal
frame or a business frame), the processing that occurs is what we have termed
“amoral decision making”, with the type of amoral decision-making processing
dependent upon the type of “non-ethical” frame that has been adopted.
It is important to note that when we speak of an ethical versus a business
frame, for example, we are not making a normative argument that these two
are or should be separate. Discussions on the “separation thesis” (Freeman,
1994), which argues that stakeholder theory separates business from ethics, pro-
vides a compelling discussion of the causes and consequences of doing so.
Rather, we speak of frames in a descriptive sense, intended to represent the dom-
inant characteristics of the situational construal as perceived by the decision
maker. Further, the adoption of a “non-ethical frame” (e.g., a business frame
or a legal frame) does not mean that ethics are unimportant or irrelevant to those
frames, but rather that a consideration of ethics does not dominate perception.
In comparison to the narrower concept of moral awareness, the incorpora-
tion of the broader construct of decision frames into the field of ethical
decision making offers new and more comprehensive insights. First, it pro-
vides a rich source of respected theories, such as that on situation perception,
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Ethical Decision Making
construals and schemas, upon which the theory-poor field of ethical decision
making can draw. Second, as we will further discuss, the broader construct of
decision frames does not treat all “non-ethical” frames as equivalent, and
thus can help expand our knowledge of amoral decision making. With these
points in mind, we discuss both moral and amoral decision processes in the
following sections.
Moral Decision Making
When decision frames prompt moral awareness, a moral decision-making
process ensues. Jones (1991) provided for a clear connection between moral
awareness and moral decision making: “For the moral decision-making process
to begin, a person must recognize the moral issues” (p. 380). This process is
not because the resulting decision is necessarily consistent with ethical
principles or norms (i.e., decisions can either be ethical or unethical; see
Table 13.2 and Figure 13.1), but because moral considerations are present
during the decision-making process. That is, the ethical relevance of the issue
at hand has been recognized and this recognition prompts a consideration of
moral implications, but it does not necessarily lead to ethical decisions.
Following Rest’s (1986) model of moral decision making, the empirical
research on the impact of moral awareness on moral decision making has
focused on three components of decision making: moral judgment (i.e., judg-
ments of
), moral intention (i.e., the intention to do what
is ethical or what is unethical), and behavior (i.e., ethical or unethical behav-
ior). The research on the impact of moral awareness on moral judgment and
behavior lends support to the notion that not all decision makers who are
morally aware make moral decisions. Singhapakdi et al. (1996) found that
awareness was correlated with moral judgment, but Valentine and Fleischman
(2003) did not find such a correlation. Similarly, one study found that aware-
ness was related to decision outcomes (Fleischman & Valentine, 2003), while
another found no relationship (Valentine & Fleischman, 2003). The evidence
regarding moral intention is more straightforward. Moral awareness is
positively associated with ethical intentions and negatively associated with
unethical intentions (Singhapakdi, 1999; Singhapakdi, Vitell, & Franke, 1999;
Singhapakdi, Salyachivin,Viraku, & Veerayangkur, 2000).
As indicated by this research, moral decision making may lead to ethical
decisions and it may not. Part of the motivation behind our typology (Table
13.2) was to recognize these two possibilities. Decision makers engaged in
moral decision making are aware of the moral implications of their situation,
but they may or may not make decisions consistent with moral concerns.
Those who do make moral decisions have engaged in “intended ethicality”,
while those who do not are engaged in “intended unethicality”. Further, our
typology allows for a bit more complexity as it recognizes a third option: moral
decision making results in “unintended unethicality” when decision makers
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make a decision they
is moral, though in fact it is not. The implication
of these options is that once the moral decision-making process is engaged, an
ethical decision is hardly guaranteed. In the following sections we review the
research on the associations between various individual and situational factors
and moral decision making outcomes, including judgment, intention, and
behavior, which has attempted to shed light on when ethical decisions result
from moral decision making and when they do not. Caution should be noted,
however, in the categorization of this research under moral decision making;
for many of the studies discussed, moral awareness is assumed (typically on
the basis of the arguably obvious ethical issues posed in the studies) rather
than explicitly measured.
Correlates of Moral Decision Making: Individual Factors
A great deal of research has been done on the connection between
gender and moral judgment, but, as with moral awareness, the results are
mixed. In some studies women have been found to make more ethical judg-
ments (e.g., Cole & Smith, 1996; Eynon, Hill, & Stevens, 1997; Mason &
Mudrack, 1996; Okleshen & Hoyt, 1996; Reiss & Mitra, 1998; Tse & Au, 1997);
in a few studies, males were found to have more ethical judgment (e.g., Weeks,
Moore, McKinney, & Longenecker, 1999); but in many other studies no rela-
tionship between gender and judgment was found (e.g., Abdolmohammadi,
Read, & Scarbrough, 2003; McCuddy & Peery, 1996; Rayburn & Rayburn,
1996; Razzaque & Hwee, 2002; Roozen, Pelsmacker, & Bostyn, 2001; Schminke
& Ambrose, 1997; Schoderbek & Deshpande, 1996; Shafer, Morris, &
Ketchand, 2001; Valentine & Rittenburg, 2007; Wimalasiri, Pavri, & Jalil,
1996). There is much less research on the connection between gender and
moral intent, but the results are similarly mixed, with some studies finding
that women have more ethical intentions (e.g., Cohen, Pant, & Sharp, 2001;
Singhapakdi, 1999; Valentine & Rittenburg, 2007) and other studies finding no
correlation (e.g., Jones & Kavanagh, 1996; Shafer et al., 2001). The research on
the connection between gender and behavior is also mixed, but is skewed such
that most studies have found that women behave more ethically (e.g., Chung &
Trivedi, 2003; Glover, Bumpus, Logan, & Ciesla, 1997; Ross & Robertson, 2003;
Sankaran & Bui, 2003).
This body of research is largely not driven by theory, but Ambrose and
Schminke (1999) helpfully identified and labeled two views that encompass
much of this research. First is the “alpha” view that there are gender differences
in individuals’ orientations toward ethics; second is the “beta” view which
holds that situations in organizations are strong enough to overwhelm any
potential gender differences—should they exist—so that they do not impact
business ethics. The former may be theoretically buttressed by Gilligan’s (1982)
research suggesting that males and females are socialized differently with
distinct gender tracts for moral development. The latter may be buttressed by
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Mischel’s (1968) research on the strength of situations. As is obvious from the
preceding paragraph, there is empirical research to support each of these views,
yet there is no theory to explain these mixed findings.
Nationality and culture.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a connec-
tion between nationality and judgment (e.g., Allmon, Chen, Pritchett, &
Forrest, 1997; Armstrong, 1996; Cherry et al., 2003; Christie, Kwon, Stoeberl,
& Baumhart, 2003; Clarke & Aram, 1997; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1999; Hegarty
& Sims, 1978; Jackson, 2001; McDonald & Pak, 1996; Okleshen & Hoyt, 1996;
Singhapakdi et al., 2001; Tsui & Windsor, 2001). For instance, Haidt, Koller,
and Dias (1993) found that Brazilians were more likely than Americans to
deem actions as morally wrong when they were offensive, yet victimless (e.g., a
woman cutting up a national flag—American or Brazilian—and then using the
rags to clean her house). Yet other studies have failed to demonstrate a
connection (e.g., Jackson & Artola, 1997; Kracher, Chatterjee, & Lundquist,
2002; Rittenburg & Valentine, 2002; Shafer, Fukukawa, & Lee, 2007; Volkema
& Fleury, 2002; Wimalasiri et al., 1996). Though based on less research, the
connection between nationality and intent appears to be stronger than that
between nationality and judgment (e.g., Cherry et al., 2003; Singhapakdi et al.,
2001; Volkema & Fleury, 2002), and the connection between nationality and
behavior is also stronger than its connection with judgment (e.g., Kennedy &
Lawton, 1996; Whitcomb, Erdener, & Li, 1998). Generally speaking, the ratio-
nality behind the chosen nationalities and the theory supporting the proposed
relationships has not been clearly articulated. As a result, the research on
nationality does not present a very clear picture of the overall connection
between nationality and ethics.
More recently, researchers have gone beyond nationality (e.g., American,
Chinese, etc.) to study the underlying cultural differences (Vitell et al., 2003;
but see Haidt et al., 1993, for an earlier example). For instance, Parboteeah,
Bronson, & Cullen (2005) measured various national-level culture variables
in order to investigate how culture might be relevant to the justification of
unethical actions. They found that performance orientation and assertiveness
were positively related to the willingness to justify unethical actions, and that
institutional collectivism and human orientation were negatively related to the
willingness to justify ethical actions.
Ethical experience.
Other research has focused on ethical experience, again
a term intended to reflect variables that might affect one’s experience with ethi-
cal dilemmas, such as religion, age, ethics training, and professional and educa-
tional experience. For the most part, religion appears to be positively associated
with moral judgment (e.g., Clark & Dawson, 1996; Razzaque & Hwee, 2002;
Wagner & Sanders, 2001; Wimalasiri et al., 1996), intention (e.g., Singhapakdi,
Marta, et al., 2000), and behavior (e.g., Kennedy & Lawton, 1996). However,
previous research has connected externally motivated religiosity (i.e., shallow
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religious commitment that is motivated by a desire to appear religious in the
eyes of others) to prejudice against minority groups (see Gorsuch, 1988). In
terms of the connection between age and judgment, the findings are mixed
with the bulk of studies showing either a negative relationship (e.g., Eynon
et al., 1997; Kracher et al., 2002; Latif, 2000; Roozen et al., 2001; Slovackova &
Slovacek, 2007), or no relationship (e.g., Larkin, 2000; Shafer et al., 2001;
Singhapakdi et al., 2001), and few studies showing a positive effect (e.g., Chow
& Choi, 2003). As of yet, age does not appear to be associated with intent (Shafer
et al., 2001), but it appears to be positively correlated with behavior (e.g., Hunt
& Jennings, 1997; Kim & Chun, 2003; Lund, 2000), although again the results
are mixed (e.g., Glover et al., 1997; Ross & Robertson, 2003; Sankaran & Bui,
2003). A possible explanation for such mixed results is that age has an effect
across certain age categories or developmental stages, and significant findings
are found only in those studies which capture these critical junctures.
Finally, there is evidence that work and educational experience are nega-
tively related to judgment (e.g., Elm & Nichols, 1993; Kaynama, King, &
Smith, 1996; Latif, 2000, 2001; Patenaude, Niyonsenga, & Fafard, 2003;
Ponemon, 1988, 1990, 1992; Reiss & Mitra, 1998; Slovackova & Slovacek, 2007;
Tse & Au, 1997), positively related to judgment (e.g., Chow & Choi, 2003; Cole
& Smith, 1996; Kracher et al., 2002; Larkin, 2000; Razzaque & Hwee, 2002;
Smith & Oakley, 1997; Weeks et al., 1999), and not related to judgment (e.g.,
Cohen et al., 2001; Malinowski & Berger, 1996; Roozen et al., 2001; Shafer
et al., 2001; Tse & Au, 1997; Wimalasiri et al., 1996). The findings regarding
intent and behavior are similarly mixed with positive correlations (e.g., Cohen
et al., 2001), negative correlations (e.g., Chavez, Wiggins, & Yolas, 2001), and
non-significant correlations (e.g., Lund, 2000; Malinowski & Berger, 1996;
Shafer et al., 2001).
Affect and arousal.
As discrete emotion has recently gained attention in
studies of the process of ethical decision making, we review this work in the
subsequent section on process. There is less research, however, on the role of
affect, a construct considered to be more diffuse and long-lived than discrete
emotion. An exception is a study by Mantel (2005) in which she found that
when participants had positive affect, they were more likely to make an ethical
decision than when their affect was neutral. Mantel argued that positive affect
led participants to think through their decisions more thoroughly, and thus to
make more ethical decisions, but this explanation is inconsistent with research
demonstrating an association between positive mood and more heuristic
processing (e.g., Bodenhausen, Kramer, & Susser, 1994). While one might
expect then that positive mood would be less closely associated with sound
judgments and decisions (and perhaps ethical decisions), more elaborate
processing can lead to less accurate judgments and decisions under certain
circumstances (e.g., Ambady & Gray, 2002). Unclear from this research is
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Ethical Decision Making
whether positive affect is associated with more or less systematic processing of
information regarding ethical situations and dilemmas; thus, conclusions
about mediating processes cannot be made.
Values and orientations.
Researchers have found that values and orienta-
tions are related to judgments, intentions, and behavior (e.g., Barnett, Bass, &
Brown, 1996; Bass, Barnett, & Brown, 1998, 1999; Boyle, 2000; Davis et al.,
1998; DeConinck & Lewis, 1997; Elias, 2002; Forsyth, 1985; Rallapalli, Vitell, &
Barnes, 1998; Schminke, Ambrose, & Noel, 1997; Shapeero, Koh, & Killough,
2003; Singhapakdi, Salyachivin, et al., 2000; Sivadas, Kleiser, Kellaris, &
Dahlstrom, 2003; Tang & Chiu, 2003). For instance, Schminke et al. (1997)
found that those who subscribed to formalism (i.e., deontological, or
principle-based, ethics) were more likely to judge procedurally just organiza-
tional practices as being fair, while those who subscribed to utilitarianism (i.e.,
consequence-based ethics) were more likely to judge distributively just organi-
zational practices as being fair. That is, formalists were more sensitive to and
concerned with issues of procedural justice, whereas utilitarians were more
sensitive to and concerned with issues of distributive justice. Sivadas et al.
(2003) found that managers who subscribed to a philosophy of relativism (i.e.,
context-based ethics) were more approving of questionable sales practices
than non-relativists.
As the previous discussion suggests, many of the proposed
associations in this area can only be tentatively considered because where one
study finds a positive correlation, another finds a negative or null correlation.
This body of knowledge does not provide a very solid answer to the big ques-
tion: what do we know? We
that gender impacts moral decision making,
but we’re not sure. We
that ethical experience impacts moral decision
making, but we’re not sure. However, as with moral awareness, we do note
that some of the more closely associated concepts theoretically (e.g., values
and religious convictions) are more consistently related to ethical outcomes.
Regarding those individual factors that are less consistently related, one possi-
ble explanation for the inconsistency is differences in context across studies.
In the next section we review the influence of such situational factors on moral
decision making.
Correlates of Moral Decision Making: Situational Factors
Issue intensity.
As proposed by Jones (1991), the intensity of an issue has
been associated with ethical decision making outcomes. For instance, Vitell
et al. (2003) found that moral intensity (measured in terms of its six compo-
nents) was positively related to both moral judgment and intention within
three different scenarios involving bribery, hazardous waste disposal, and an
offensive advertising campaign. Similarly, in another scenario study, Nill and
Schibrowsky (2005) found that to the extent that participants perceived moral
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The Academy of Management Annals
intensity (measured in terms of its six components), they were more likely to
make an ethical decision by reporting more accurate sales projections for a
new product rather than inflating the numbers so as to financially benefit their
Ethical infrastructure.
The decision context in which individuals find
themselves is also relevant here, and as noted earlier, Tenbrunsel et al.’s (2003)
concept of the ethical infrastructure, which includes organizational climates,
informal systems, and formal systems relevant to ethics, is a helpful way to
think about the decision context. They argued that the components of the
infrastructure are difficult to understand and evaluate in isolation from one
another because the stronger elements—the ones that cannot be seen like
climate and informal systems—impact the effectiveness of the weaker
elements like formal communication, surveillance, and sanctioning systems.
In other words, they argued that the components reflecting the “true” expecta-
tions and values—the way that things are really done—will have a greater
influence on ethical outcomes within organizations than the more “surface”
components like written rules as the former is more likely to be internalized
than the latter (cf. Weaver & Treviño, 1999). Further, they argued that the
components interact, making it difficult to predict the effect of one component
without considering the others.
Indeed, the research in this area, which has largely looked at the compo-
nents in isolation from one another has yielded mixed results. For instance,
there is evidence that ethics training is positively associated with moral inten-
tion (e.g., Eynon et al., 1997), but not ethical behavior (e.g., McKendall,
DeMarr, & Jones-Rikkers, 2002). Goal-setting, another component of the eth-
ical infrastructure, has been argued to be negatively associated with ethical
behavior (Schweizer, Ordonez, & Douma, 2004). One can see some evidence
of patterns consistent (albeit not perfectly) with Tenbrunsel et al.’s hypothesis
that organizational climate and informal systems (e.g., Bartels, Harrick,
Martell, & Strickland, 1998; Flannery & May, 2000; Fritzsche, 2000; Peterson,
2002; Rothwell, & Baldwin, 2007; Singhapakdi et al., 2001; Verbeke, Uwerkerk,
& Peelen, 1996; Weber, Kurke, & Pentico, 2003) are more influential than for-
mal systems, specifically codes of ethics (e.g., Cleek & Leonard, 1998; Douglas,
Davidson, & Schwartz, 2001; McKendall et al., 2002; Nwachukwu & Vitell,
1997; Paolillo & Vitell, 2002; Udas, Fuerst, & Paradice, 1996). Interestingly,
however, the connection between codes of ethics and behavior is less mixed
than that between codes of ethics and judgment or intention, with many of the
studies on behavior showing a positive correlation (e.g., Greenberg, 2002;
McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1996; Peterson, 2002; Weaver & Treviño,
1999). Finally, some studies have focused on the positive correlations between
the pressure to do wrong and unethical behavior. Research on the role of
informal incentives to behave unethically (Hegarty & Sims, 1978; Tenbrunsel,
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Ethical Decision Making 571
1998), has revealed a positive relationship between incentives and unethical
Summary. The connections between the situational factors studied and
ethical outcomes are somewhat mixed, though less so than we see in the
research on individual factors. As with moral awareness, issue intensity and
ethical infrastructure do appear to be predictive of outcomes related to moral
decision making; however, the inconsistencies in studies and in the outcomes
that have been studied—judgment, intentions, behavior—leaves us with a
fairly confusing picture. We argue that part of the problem is that this research
does not really tell us much about the actual process of moral decision making;
rather, the bulk of these studies have focused on associations between variables
and not on the fundamental mechanisms linking them together. As we believe
that the research that has investigated these underlying mechanisms offers
great promise, in the next section we review the process models that have been
developed in attempt to shed additional light on the moral decision-making
Progress on Moral Decision Making: A Look at Process
Traditionally, moral decision making in organizations has been viewed
through a rational lens, assuming that decision makers faced with an ethical
dilemma follow a systematic process to arrive at an outcome. Recent work has
challenged that assumption, asserting that decision-processing is instead influ-
enced by biases, emotions and intuition. Still others have claimed that these
approaches—the rational and the not-so-rational—need to be considered
simultaneously. In the following sections, we review each of these approaches.
Rational models. Traditionally, models of ethical decision making have
posited that the process of ethical decision making is cognitive, deliberate, and
governed by reason, a paradigm that is often associated with Kant (1785/1964)
who said that the only unconditional good is good will, which is solely deter-
mined by moral reason. This paradigm of reason has been dominant not only
in theories of ethical decision making, but also in theories of decision making
more broadly construed (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). In much of the empirical
research on ethical decision making, the central importance of reason is
reflected in terms of hypotheses about what factors are likely to be important
(i.e., factors influencing cognition, such as values and orientations), even
though this research is not necessarily theoretically driven or at least is not
testing a particularly theory.
Since the eighteenth century, the time of Kant, much has been said about
the process of ethical decision making, but in the interest of brevity and
because intellectual history is neither our goal nor our area of expertise, we
will skip ahead to the 1980s when significant theoretical advancement was
made by scholars of business ethics. In 1985 Ferrell and Gresham posited a
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572 The Academy of Management Annals
“contingency model” of ethical decision making in which an ethical dilemma
engenders ethical decision making, a process influenced by both individual
and situational factors ranging from teleological and deontological consider-
ations (e.g., how many people will be harmed and what principles are at
stake, respectively) to significant others who influence thinking by setting
norms (cf. Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978) to reward and punishment structures
within organizations (cf. Tenbrunsel et al., 2003). The result of this process of
decision making is a behavioral outcome or decision which is subsequently
evaluated in what Ferrell and Gresham suggested is the “learning component”
of the process, an evaluation that in turn influences future ethical decision
The next year several more theories of ethical decision making were pos-
ited. Rest (1986) posited a multi-stage model of moral awareness, moral judg-
ment, moral intention, and behavior (cf. Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), stages that
he argued “logically we would claim that the person must have performed”
(p. 3; emphasis added). As noted earlier, Hunt and Vitell (1986) also stressed
the importance of moral reasoning. Their theory explains what happens
once one is morally aware: the individual deliberates and this deliberation is
structured by teleological and deontological considerations (cf. Ferrell &
Gresham, 1985). Typically, they argued, teleological and deontological evalu-
ations will both inform moral judgment, and, like Rest, they argued that
moral judgment will then lead to intention, which will lead to behavior
(constrained by situational factors). Like Ferrell and Gresham (1985), they
suggested that the actual consequences of the behavior will influence future
ethical decision making, and their theory takes into account both individual
and situational factors. Trevino’s (1986) theory also shares similarities
with these models. Influenced by Kohlberg’s (1969) work, Trevino posited
that an ethical dilemma will engender ethical decision making that is influ-
enced by one’s stage of cognitive moral development; similar to the other
theories, she posited that the decision-making process would culminate
in behavior, but not before it is influenced by numerous individual and situa-
tional factors.
Following this proliferation of theories, Jones (1991) created a synthesis
model. Indeed, the high degree of convergence among these theories—all
of which stemmed from a common paradigm that holds ethical decision
making as a reason-based process—facilitates such efforts to synthesize them.
Jones outlined the basic stage-model seen in all of the aforementioned theo-
ries: moral awareness leads to moral judgment, which leads to intent, which
leads to behavior. The detail is in all of the factors hypothesized to influence
each stage of this process. Empirical evidence provides support for these the-
ories, although in some cases the support has been mixed. Moral awareness
has been linked to judgment (e.g., Singhapakdi et al., 1996), judgment has
been linked to intention (e.g., Barnett, 2001; Barnett et al., 1996; DeConinck
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Ethical Decision Making 573
& Lewis, 1997; Shafer et al., 2001; Wagner & Sanders, 2001), and intention
has been linked to behavior (e.g., Wagner & Sanders, 2001). Moreover, as
demonstrated in the previous discussion on the correlates of moral reason-
ing, empirical evidence also provides support (however mixed) for the
numerous variables posited to influence the basic process of moral decision
And thus, the story goes: reason was king. It was king. While this rational-
ist approach has dominated the study of ethical decision making, its position
has begun to weaken. In the proceeding sections we discuss alternative con-
ceptions of decision making that cannot be immediately reconciled with the
traditional rationalist approach. Included in these approaches are those that
identify biases as impediments to a rational process and those that assert the
importance of considering emotion and intuition. We review each of these
approaches in turn.
Biases. Within this paradigm, research has examined the biases that
impede a rational, moral decision-making process. Messick and Bazerman
(1996), for example, proposed that unethical decisions are often the result of
psychological tendencies that lead to weaknesses in how individuals process
information and make decisions, weaknesses that lead to unethical outcomes.
They argued that our internal theories about ourselves and the world around
us result in often unconscious influences on our decision-making process. The
decision makers go through the moral calculation and believe they have made
an “ethical” decision but because their decision making is flawed, they actually
end up making an unintentional unethical decision (see Table 13.2). Messick
and Bazerman identified three types of theories that we as decision makers
utilize when making decisions: theories about the world, theories about other
people, and theories about ourselves. Theories about the world refer to our
beliefs about how the world works, theories about other people are organized
beliefs about how “we” are different from “they”, and theories about ourselves
are our (unrealistic) beliefs about ourselves.
Theories about our world are argued to bias our perceptions of the negative
consequences of our behavior, to cause us to mis-judge the risk involved, and
to create inaccurate judgments about causal perceptions. For example, in the
case of DES (diethylstilbestrol), a synthetic estrogen prescribed for women
with problem pregnancies, the real and catastrophic risks were to the daugh-
ters of the pregnant women, not the pregnant women themselves who gar-
nered concern. As Messick and Bazerman (1996) argued, “when there is a
tendency to restrict the analysis of a policy’s consequences to one or two
groups of visible stakeholders, the decision may be blind-sided by unantici-
pated consequences to an altogether different group” (p. 10). Other biases,
including ignoring low-probability events, ignoring the possibility that the
public will find out, discounting the future, undervaluing collective outcomes,
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574 The Academy of Management Annals
denying uncertainty, and risk-framing also bias the moral decision-making
Theories about other people are similarly tainted. Ethnocentrism and ste-
reotypes lead us to inaccurately believe that our group, our values and beliefs
are superior to those of a different group and further, result in our undifferen-
tiated perceptions of all members of other groups. These biased perceptions
lead us to believe in military situations, for example, that our military strate-
gies are moral and theirs are not, and that all members of other countries and
religions think and behave identically. The “authority heuristic” is another
example of a bias stemming from our theories of others (Strudler & Warren,
2001). We often trust in the wisdom, expertise, and experience of authority
figures, and rightfully so, but occasionally this trust is misplaced and we are
led astray (cf. Milgram, 1974).
Theories about ourselves—including illusions of superiority, self-serving
perceptions of fairness, and overconfidence—result in perceptions that we are
more ethical than we really are, assessments in which we are more confident
than we should be and beliefs that the “fair” solution is the one that benefits
us. Tenbrunsel, Diekmann, Wade-Benzoni, and Bazerman (forthcoming)
recently added a temporal component to this basic idea that people are poor
judges of themselves. They argued that people tend to be less ethical than they
think they are because they misremember the past (i.e., they remember being
more ethical than they really were) and mispredict the future (i.e., they expect
to be more ethical than they really will be).
In summary, the notion of biased decision making throws caution into the
wind of reason-based models of ethical decision making. Even if we recognize
a decision as an ethical one, our reasoning can be tainted. While we may desire
to follow a rational decision process, the end result may be anything but.
Intuition and Emotion. Other researchers have posited that intuition and
emotion are important, yet previously ignored factors in contemporary ethical
decision-making theory, though this idea has historical precedent (e.g., Smith
1759/2000). The work in moral psychology of Haidt and his colleagues on the
role of intuition in ethical decision making, in particular, has provided
evidence against the supremacy of reason that has had wide impact, including
impact within the field of business ethics (e.g., Reynolds, 2006a; Sonenshein,
2007; Trevino et al., 2006; Warren & Smith-Crowe, forthcoming). Haidt’s
(2001) basic proposition is that moral judgments are often made quickly and
on the basis of intuition, with reasoning being post hoc and necessitated when
explanations and rationalizations must be conjured. A good deal of evidence
supports this intuitionist view of ethical decision making. For instance, Haidt
and his colleagues have found that when they have presented participants with
certain scenarios (like siblings who engage in a one-time, consensual sexual
interaction with no possibility of offspring), participants immediately declare
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Ethical Decision Making 575
that the behavior in question is immoral, but they are unable to articulate why
(e.g., Haidt, 2001), suggesting that their response is intuitive. Consistent with
the post hoc reasoning aspect of Haidt’s proposition, Tenbrunsel (1998)
argued and found support for the notion that one’s justification (i.e., “my
opponent lied to me”) was driven by the decision to behave unethically, rather
than the justification driving the decision. Wheatley and Haidt (2005) found
that hypnotically induced disgust increased the severity of individuals’ moral
judgments of hypothetical situations. These findings suggest that moral judg-
ments can be post hoc, and may follow from emotion, not just reason and
deliberate cognition.
Much of this research on intuition focuses on the role of emotion in
moral judgment, which is only a single component of the models put forth
by the earlier theorists asserting more reason-based theories (Ferrell & Gre-
sham, 1985; Hunt & Vitell, 1986; Jones, 1991; Rest, 1986; Trevino, 1986). The
work by Damasio (1994), however, presents a broader picture of the role of
emotion in ethical decision making, one consistent with dual-processing
models. First, he questioned what he suggested is an arbitrary distinction
between cognitive and emotional: “Feelings, along with the emotions they
come from, are not a luxury. They serve as internal guides…. And feelings
are neither intangible nor elusive. Contrary to traditional scientific opinion,
feelings are just as cognitive as other percepts” (p. xix). He argued that in the
case of moral reasoning—and more broadly, social interactions—emotion
functions in tandem with reason. For instance, without emotions like empa-
thy or shame to draw our attention to moral issues and highlight the moral
imperative in situations (cf. Jones, 1991), we are left with a “decision making
landscape [that is] hopelessly flat” (Damasio, 1994, p. 51). In other words,
without emotion we would not be able to distinguish the abhorrent from
the mundane; we would be operating outside of the grip of conscience. As
support for his assertions, Damasio offered up the historical case of Phineas
Gage, the nineteenth-century construction foreman who became incapable
of navigating the social world (morally speaking and otherwise) after an
accident damaged parts of his brain associated with emotional functioning,
as well as several modern cases demonstrating similar dysfunctions subse-
quent to damage to patients’ capacity for emotion. Similarly, in a longitudi-
nal study conducted by Greene and Haidt (2002), individuals who had
neurological damage to parts of the brain that handle emotions were found
to suffer from diminished capacities for moral reasoning. This evidence sug-
gests that emotion is not only relevant to moral judgment (as Haidt and his
colleagues have demonstrated), but it is relevant to ethical decision making
more broadly.
Clearly, Damasio (1994), like Haidt and his colleagues (e.g., Haidt, 2001;
Wheatly & Haidt, 2005) and like Messick and Bazerman (1996), presents a
very different picture of ethical decision making from that offered up several
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decades ago. Indeed the recent past of this intellectual domain has been
characterized by exciting advancements. First, a handful of researchers moved
the field forward by articulating a basic cognitive process of ethical decision
making: awareness, judgment, intent, and behavior. Helpfully, they also
enumerated important individual and situational factors likely influencing
this process. More recently, the work on biases as well as moral intuition and
emotion has suggested that while these cognitive frameworks are useful (as
evidenced by their empirical support), they do not represent the definitive
picture of ethical decision making, suggesting instead that biases, intuition,
and emotion also must be considered. In the following sections we highlight
the most recent advancements in our understanding of the process of moral
decision making—much of which focuses on understanding both the reason
and the emotion associated with ethical decision making.
Putting it all together. As we see it, the question is not whether moral
decision making is (a) rational, (b) emotional, or (c) other; instead the ques-
tion is when is it any one of these things and when is it some combination?
Several studies have demonstrated that the “when” depends on the ethically
relevant stimuli. Monin, Pizarro, and Beer (2007) argued that the oft-used
“moral dilemma” is structured so as to prompt deliberation because it entails
moral rules being pitted against one another. The well-known dilemma faced
by Heinz who must either steal a life-saving drug for his wife, or uphold the
law and in doing so allow his wife to die (Colby & Kohlberg, 1987) is an exam-
ple of a moral dilemma. Typically, participants faced with moral dilemmas are
asked to indicate what the actor in the scenario should do (e.g., “What should
Heinz do?”). In contrast are “moral reaction” scenarios in which an action has
already taken place and participants are asked to make a moral judgment. For
instance, participants might be asked to judge the actions of a family who
decides to eat its dog after the dog has been accidentally hit and killed by a car
(Haidt, Koller, & Dias, 1993). Dilemmas (e.g., as those pitting respect for the
law against respect for human life) are by definition difficult to resolve and
thus require deliberation; reactions to outrageous and shocking behavior (like
families eating their pets), however, tend to be more immediate and intuitive.
While the research focusing on these types of situations has been fruitful,
Monin et al. (2007) have argued such a narrow focus constitutes a myopia that
has begun to impede continued progress in this research arena: “Specifically, if
one thinks of the typical moral situation as involving the resolution of a moral
dilemma, one is likely to arrive at a model of moral judgment that heavily
emphasizes the role of rational deliberation. If, on the other hand, one
conceives of the typical moral situation as one in which we must judge others’
moral infractions, one may conclude that morality involves quick judgments
that have a strong affective component and are not necessarily justifiable by
reasoning” (p. 99).
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Ethical Decision Making 577
Other researchers have empirically demonstrated similar effects. For
instance Cushman, Young, and Hauser (2006, p. 1083) compared individuals’
reactions to scenarios representing different moral principles: (1) the action
principle (“Harm caused by action is morally worse than equivalent harm
caused by omission”); (2) the intention principle (“Harm intended as the
means to a goal is morally worse than equivalent harm foreseen as the side
effect of a goal”); and (3) the contact principle (“Using physical contact to cause
harm to a victim is morally worse than causing equivalent harm to a victim
without using physical contact”). They found that depending on the principle
at stake, participants generated more or less sufficient justifications for their
positions. When the action principle was at stake, participants were able to pro-
duce very sufficient justifications for their decisions, yet when the intention
principle was in question, they were not. The researchers inferred from these
results that their participants were engaging in a more deliberate cognitive pro-
cess when it came to the action principle and a more intuitive process when it
came to the intention principle. The sufficiency of justification regarding the
contact principle was between that of the other two principles; the researchers
suggested participants’ responses to this principle were based a bit more on
intuition than reason.
Like Cushman et al. (2006), Borg and her colleagues (Borg, Hynes, Horn,
Grafton, & Sinnott-Armstrong, 2006) studied individuals’ reactions to scenar-
ios representing different principles, but rather than focusing on participants’
external responses, they examined participants’ brain activity via fMRI (func-
tional magnetic resonance imaging) technology. Borg et al. (2006, p. 804)
employed three principles: (1) consequentialism (“…we morally ought to do
whatever has the best consequences overall”); (2) the doctrine of doing and
allowing, which is comparable to Cushman et al.’s action principle (“…it takes
more to justify doing harm than to justify allowing harm”); and (3) the doc-
trine of double effect, which is comparable to Cushman et al.’s intention prin-
ciple (“…it takes more to justify harms that were intended either as ends or as
means than to justify harms that were known but unintended side effects”).
Consistent with the conclusions of Cushman et al., they found that scenarios
representing the doctrine of doing and allowing elicited brain activity in areas
associated with cognition, while scenarios representing the doctrine of double
effect elicited brain activity in areas associated with emotion. Interestingly,
scenarios representing a consequentialist principle elicited brain activity like
that associated with amoral decision making; perhaps this finding reflects the
cost–benefit aspect of consequentialism, which also characterizes more amoral
decision processes like that which occurs in the making of “business” decisions
(Tensbrunsel & Messick, 1999). Valdesolo and DeSteno (2006) found, how-
ever, that when faced with a scenario reflecting a consequentialist dilemma,
participants who had previously received a positive mood inducement were
more supportive of a utilitarian resolution to the dilemma than those who
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previously received a neutral mood inducement. Thus, we cannot assume that
participants’ reactions to a particular type of scenario will be static. Rather,
factors like affect may play a role.
Together, these studies appear to largely bear out what Monin et al. (2007)
have argued: different scenarios engage different processes (see also Greene &
Haidt, 2002; Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley, & Cohen, 2001; Tenbrun-
sel & Messick, 2004). Moreover, the scenarios often used in empirical research
tend to engage either cognitive or emotional processes, rather than both. To
remedy this situation and to study the interaction of these processes, Monin et
al. (2007) suggested that research allow for other types of ethical situations.
Moral temptation, for instance, refers to situations in which individuals know
what they should do, but they fail to do it; in other words, succumbing to moral
temptation is a matter of failed will power. They evoked the literatures on delay
of gratification and ego depletion to argue that will-power plays a key role in
our moral lives as we often must forego what is quick, easy, and satisfying to
do what is right. Further, they suggested that to the extent that intelligence
(which represents cognitive processes) and will-power (which represents emo-
tional processes) are linked, situations of moral temptation are likely to engage
both cognitive and emotional processes.
Just as there have been recent calls to allow for both cognitive and emo-
tional processes in empirical research, theory too has begun to encompass a
dual-process outlook. For instance, Warren and Smith-Crowe (forthcoming)
recently proposed a theory of how emotion and cognition can work together
to produce shifts in moral judgments, or understandings of right and wrong.
They argued that in situations of moral ambiguity, sanctions levied against
unintentional wrongdoers will elicit emotion for that wrongdoer, which will,
in turn, elicit cognition. That is, the wrongdoer will be embarrassed by the
unexpected sanction, and the embarrassment will occasion self-reflection as
the wrongdoer attempts to understand why he or she has been rebuked.
Whereas there was initially no moral awareness, the sanction and resulting
embarrassment trigger moral awareness post hoc. Through this process the
wrongdoer may realize that he or she has transgressed, and, hence he or she
experiences a shift in moral judgment (i.e., a new understanding of right and
wrong) that should help in preventing future wrongdoing.
Reynolds (2006a) set out to explain ethical decision making more generally
construed (i.e., more general than unintentional wrongdoing) with his
recent dual-processing model consisting of two parts: the “X-system” and the
“C-system”. While the former represents more non-conscious, automatic
processing of information (including emotional processes), the latter repre-
sents more conscious, deliberate processing of information. The X-system
operates on prototypes, matching them to incoming information so that we
can immediately and without thinking about it recognize an ethical situation
as such and act on it. If, however, incoming information cannot be matched to
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Ethical Decision Making 579
a prototype, the C-system kicks in so that we can consciously process the
information and react based on our deliberations. These deliberations serve to
develop prototypes so that the next time we encounter the same situation, the
X-system can respond, freeing up valuable cognitive resources that can be used
by the C-system. Theory like this on dual-process decision making will be
essential to bridge the cognitive–emotional divide that still characterizes much
of the empirical research in this area.
As our review demonstrates, much of the research on moral decision making
focuses on correlations between various predictors and ethical outcomes.
Overall, the results of these efforts have been decidedly mixed. We suggest
that one explanation for these mixed results is that these studies may actually
represent different processes for which different predictors may be relevant.
Traditionally theory on the process of ethical decision making has followed
from a rationalist paradigm. More recently, theory and research on biased
decision making and intuitive, emotion-based judgment has raised questions
about the appropriateness of this rationalist assumption. With reason in
question, other related assumptions are also on shaky ground. For instance, a
non-rational, biased process suggests that we may mistakenly come to false
conclusions, thinking that what we are doing is right, when really it is incon-
sistent with principles of ethics. Thus, the result of moral decision making,
intended to be ethical, may produce an unethical outcome (see Table 13.2).
We discuss problematic theoretical assumptions further in the section on
future research directions, but first we discuss the other process in our model,
namely that which follows from individuals’ failure to code a situation or issue
as being a moral one.
Amoral Decision Making
If individuals are morally unaware of the ethical components of an impending
decision, they will engage in what we have termed amoral decision making, a
process in which the ethical implications of the decision will not affect the
decision process but a decision with ethical implications will nonetheless
result. Amoral decision making can produce an ethical or unethical decision,
what we have termed “unintended ethicality” and “unintended unethicality”,
but what is important is that the decision makers are unaware that they are
facing a decision with ethical implications. The decision makers are not
amoral, but their decision process is, in that it does not encompass any ethical
Jones’ (1991) article on moral intensity, despite being well-known for its
focus on issue intensity as it relates to moral awareness, was one of the first to
highlight the importance of considering an amoral decision process in addi-
tion to the moral decision process. He defined a moral agent as one who
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580 The Academy of Management Annals
makes a moral decision, even if he or she does not recognize it as such. Thus,
decisions with moral implications are made even if the agent does not realize
the ethicality of the decision. Jones (1991) argued that decision makers faced
with an ethical dilemma, whether they code it as an ethical decision or not,
employ role schemata, a set of rules and norms that govern behavior. If the
decision maker recognizes the decision as a moral one, the decision maker
employs what is termed a “moral decision-making schemata”. However,
important for the discussion at hand is the acknowledgement that, when the
moral dilemma is not recognized, there are other types of decision making
schemata that are employed, such that “a person who fails to recognize a
moral issue will fail to employ moral decision-making schemata and will make
the decision according to some other schemata, economic rationality, for
example” (Jones, 1991, p. 380).
The employment of non-moral decision-making schemata, what we will
refer to as decision frames (Tenbrunsel & Messick, 1999), is at the root of what
we have termed the amoral decision process. Tenbrunsel and Messick’s (1999)
examination of the impact of surveillance systems on decision frames and
cooperation is useful for illustrating decision frames in an amoral decision-
making process. Their study, which investigated the role of sanctioning sys-
tems in a prisoner’s dilemma, placed participants in the role of a manufacturer
in an industry that emitted toxic gas. The participants were told that, in an
attempt to mitigate potential lobbying for regulation by environmentalists to
reduce the toxic gas, industry leaders had reached an informal agreement to
run “scrubbers” 80% of the time so as to reduce emissions on their own. While
costly to run the scrubbers, this agreement was described as one way to ward
off the environmentalists and potential regulation. Participants were then
asked whether they would adhere to (cooperate with) the agreement or
defect, with payoffs replicating a prisoner’s dilemma such that the dominant
individual rational choice was to defect (not adhere to the agreement), but the
dominant group rational choice was to cooperate (adhere to the agreement).
To investigate the impact of surveillance systems on the decision, participants
were either told that there would be surveillance and sanctioning systems to
punish defectors or that there would be no such system.
In addition to asking participants whether they would defect or cooperate,
individuals in the Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999) studies were also asked to
indicate the type of decision with which they were faced, including business,
ethical, environmental, personal, legal or other. The results revealed that the
perception of the decision frame varied and was influenced by whether a sanc-
tioning system was present: without a sanctioning system, 55% viewed the
decision as an ethical one and 45% as a business decision; however, with a
sanctioning system, 74% viewed it as a business decision, 18% as an ethical
decision, 4% as a personal, and 4% as a legal decision. The frames adopted, in
turn, influenced behavior, with ethical frames leading to more cooperative
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Ethical Decision Making 581
behavior than business frames. These results provide evidence that decision
frames help to understand behavior, and that they are not a “given” but rather
vary by the decision context. Amoral decision making occurs when a decision
maker views the decision through a frame that is not an ethical frame, the
adoption of which can lead to either ethical or unethical decisions.
The examination of a specific subset of amoral decision making, namely
that which results in unethical decisions, is found in recent discussions of
“bounded ethicality” (Banaji & Bhaskar, 2000; Banaji, Bazerman, & Chugh,
2003; Chugh, Bazerman, & Banaji, 2005). Drawing from Simon’s (1983) con-
ceptualization of bounded rationality, Chugh et al. (2005) defined bounded
ethicality as a set of decision processes that lead people to engage in behavior
that is at odds with their ethical standards. In other words, this research area
attempts to explain why it is that people, who desire to be ethical and see
themselves as ethical people actually engage in unethical behavior. At the base
of bounded ethicality is decision makers’ lack of awareness that they are in fact
making unethical decisions.
Examples of bounded ethicality are plentiful, including unintentionally
overclaiming credit, discounting the future, and falling victim to conflicts of
interest (Bazerman & Moore, 2008). Failing to recognize the overly positive
views we hold of ourselves, for example, may lead us to overclaim credit for
group work (Caruso, Epley, & Bazerman, 2006). Research on implicit attitudes
clearly illustrates how racist and sexist behavior can occur without the decision
maker’s awareness (Chugh et al., 2005). Wade-Benzoni (1999, 2002, 2007) has
documented the multiple ways in which we unknowingly overly discount the
future and, in doing so, harm future generations. Moore, Tetlock, Tanlu, and
Bazerman (2006) summarized the evidence that highlights our lack of aware-
ness of conflicts of interest that we face, conflicts that result in decisions that
lead to corrupt behavior.
Bounded ethicality, which incorporates research on how unethical deci-
sions are made without moral awareness, represents a subset of amoral deci-
sion making, which more broadly includes both ethical and unethical
decisions made without moral awareness (see Table 13.2). To understand
whether amoral decision making results in ethical or unethical decisions, one
must understand the type of frame adopted. Research on decision frames
indicates that the processing that occurs within frames is unique to the
specific frame through which the decision is viewed (Tenbrunsel & Messick,
1999). In their investigation of sanctioning systems and cooperation
described earlier, Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999) found that individuals who
saw the decision as an ethical one were unaffected by the strength of the
sanctioning system, but individuals who saw the situation as involving a
business decision were affected, such that higher sanctions led to more coop-
erative behavior. As Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999) argued, “a business frame
produces a calculative cost–benefit process in which cooperation rates depend
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582 The Academy of Management Annals
on the strength of the sanction” (p. 700); an ethical frame produced no such
While specific to the study of cooperation in a prisoner dilemma game
involving sanctioning systems, these results offer insight into the amoral deci-
sion-making process. Understanding whether ethical decisions will be made
during such a process, when the decision maker is ethically unaware, involves
understanding what frame has been adopted and what processing occurs
within that frame. If, for example, a business frame has been adopted, decisions
will be driven by whether or not they make good business sense: an ethical
decision will be made if it makes good business sense, whereas an unethical
outcome will result if that makes good business sense. If a legal frame has been
adopted, legality of the decision will drive the decision processes and resulting
outcomes: if the law and ethics are in concert, an ethical decision will result but
if the law and ethics are out of sync, then a legal but unethical decision will be
made. For both examples, because the decision maker was unaware, the ethi-
cality of the outcomes is produced without intentionality; the former decision
entails “unintended ethicality” and the latter decision entails “unintended
unethicality” (see Table 13.2).
Progress on Amoral Decision Making
In the sections on moral awareness and moral decision making, we identified
progress that had been made in those areas. The systematic study of amoral
decision making is itself progress as it recognizes that ethical and unethical
outcomes do result even when the decision maker is unaware that they are
making a decision with ethical implications. This research is relatively new,
offering great promise in expanding our understanding of how ethical
and unethical decisions are made. Thus, the progress that has been made is
identified in the previous discussion, with hopefully much more to come.
General Summary
A review of the field of ethical decision making reveals the beginning of an
interesting story that continues to unfold. There are several well-established
models (Ferrell & Gresham, 1985; Hunt & Vitell, 1986; Jones, 1991; Rest, 1986;
Trevino, 1986) that have guided much of the empirical work on ethical deci-
sion making, all of which assume that ethical decision making is a reason-
based process. With their common premise, these theories largely converge on
the basic stages of ethical decision making: awareness, judgment, intent, and
behavior. As detailed previously, there is a great deal of empirical research that
attempts to substantiate this basic process, as well as investigate the numerous
individual and situational factors that may impact it.
More recent work, however, has begun to deviate from these well-
established models by questioning their assumptions and forging new theoret-
ical paths. Included in this research is that which has relaxed the assumption
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Ethical Decision Making 583
of moral awareness as a precursor to ethical decision making, such as that
which argues that individuals faced with an ethical dilemma often make uneth-
ical decisions that may be inconsistent with the decision maker’s true intentions
to make ethical decisions (Banaji & Bhaskar, 2000; Banaji et al., 2003; Chugh
et al., 2005). Recent research has also questioned the premise that ethical deci-
sion making is always reason-based. First, research by Messick and Bazerman
(1996) suggests that decision-making processes can be riddled with biases.
Second, research by Haidt and his colleagues (e.g., Haidt, 2001) demonstrates
that moral judgments can be the result of a very quick, intuitive, emotion-based
process, rather than a reason-based process. This question of whether our moral
lives are guided by reason or emotion has led to some very interesting research
that is less about investigating simple correlations between independent
variables and ethical decision making, and instead focuses on investigating the
processes that underlie ethical decision making. Promising work in this area
includes that which focuses on stimuli that elicit either cognitive or emotional
processing (e.g., Borg et al., 2006; Cushman et al., 2006; Monin et al., 2007) and
that which focuses on dual processes by which cognitive and emotional systems
work together (e.g., Reynolds, 2006a; Warren & Smith-Crowe, forthcoming).
As we stated in the beginning, our goal was less to confirm existing theo-
retical frameworks and more to understand what useful frameworks the field
might be offering. Looking at the research in this area through this lens yielded
several new insights that we believe contribute to our understanding of the
field of ethical decision making. As discussed previously, our review first high-
lighted two different camps of researchers: those who assume that moral
awareness precedes moral judgment and those who argue that many ethically
relevant decisions are made without the decision maker recognizing the ethi-
cal implications of such decisions. Researchers in each camp naturally argue
for the importance of their own assumption, but as we assert, it is important
to consider both in the study of ethical decision making. At least as important,
though, is to consider the possibility of both ethical and unethical outcomes in
each domain. Intentionality, while assumed within moral philosophy, typically
is not systematically considered in other fields, such as social science (Trevino
et al., 2006). By distinguishing and disentangling intention from ethicality, the
typology of decisions—intended ethicality, intended unethicality, unintended
ethicality and unintended unethicality—we offered up in Table 13.2 highlights
the importance of considering both dimensions simultaneously. Both moral
decision making and amoral decision making can produce ethical and uneth-
ical outcomes. However, some of these cells, such as amoral decision making
that produces ethical decisions, are noticeably empty (i.e., little research falls
into these cells), rendering our understanding of ethical decision making
We also argued for the importance of understanding the decision frame
through which the decision maker views the ethical dilemma. While previous
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584 The Academy of Management Annals
research has seemingly focused on a single frame—the presence or absence of
an ethical frame—recent work in decision making suggests that understand-
ing which decision frame is being utilized can provide significant insight into
the our understanding of behavior. Thus, we argue that simply knowing that
the decision maker is not morally aware is less useful than knowing what deci-
sion frame has been activated.
Highlighting recent work on the processes underlying moral decision mak-
ing, we also argued for the necessity of going beyond simple empirical corre-
lations to delve into the black box of moral decision making. Doing so could
not only help explain the many inconsistent empirical findings, but it could
also truly enrich our understanding of ethical decision making. If we continue
to merely examine the surface that is all we will come to know: the veneer of
ethical decision making. But if we resolve to dig deeper, we can anticipate
advancing our knowledge of ethical decision making.
It is our hope that our review both highlights the work that has been done
in the field of ethical decision making and offers new insights into ways of
looking at this work. Though our review indicates that the field is growing, it
is evident that it is still nascent and the research pathways are still unfolding.
In the next section, we offer promising directions for future research.
Directions for Future Research
Any review is useful for identifying what we know about a given field, but it is
perhaps even more important for identifying what we do not yet know, but
need to find out. The relative infancy of the ethical decision making field may
be frustrating in that reviews are prone to revealing what we do not know, but,
at the same time, these unanswered and unasked questions are the promises of
the insights yet to come. Significant progress in the future will be made by
continuing to develop definitions and new theories that reflect knowledge
gained not only within business ethics, but in other disciplines as well.
Similarly, utilizing new methodologies will shed new light on processes and
mechanisms that have yet to be discovered. Yet, while there is promise in
looking towards new theory and research, we posit that it is also important to
reconsider existing theory and research. We look to both the old and the new,
the told and the untold as fruitful avenues for the future.
Defining “Ethics”
As noted at the beginning of this review, the lack of a definition of the central
construct of interest, “ethical decision making”, has hindered past research in
the area of behavioral ethics and will continue to bring the field down unless
serious attention is given to it. Significant scholarly attention is needed to
examine the underlying assumptions in our theories and their contribution to
this problem (Freeman, 1994; Ghoshal, 2005). Further, a resolution of this
problem will require us to connect to other disciplines. While the field holds
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Ethical Decision Making 585
significant possibilities for the oft touted “inter-disciplinarian” work, connect-
ing to the disciplines of philosophy, theology, psychology to name a few, if
those connections are not made, these fields could turn on each other and the
field without a definition may defeat itself. The need for these fields, particu-
larly the normative and empirical disciplines, to come together has been
recognized before, with arguments noting that “after all, business ethics is an
area of applied philosophy” (Messick & Tenbrunsel, 1996, p. 9).
Gloom and doom is not necessarily warranted, however, as there is some
hope, and it comes from an unexpected place: philosophy. Known for defining
themselves by “thought”, philosophers have traditionally been devoutly non-
Philosophers don’t observe; we don’t experiment; we don’t measure; and
we don’t count. We reflect. We love nothing more than our “thought
experiments”, but the key word there is thought (Appiah, 2007).
But the times may be a-changing. There is a group of philosophers, pursuing
what is known as “experimental philosophy” (known as “x-phi”), who use
thought experiments to help shed light on philosophical arguments. Joshua
Knobe, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, asked
students to reflect on the following (Appiah, 2007):
Suppose the chairman of a company has to decide whether to adopt a
new program. It would increase profits and help the environment too. “I
don’t care at all about helping the environment”, the chairman says. “I
just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.”
Would you say that the chairman intended to help the environment?
O.K., same circumstance. Except this time the program would harm
the environment. The chairman, who still couldn’t care less about the
environment, authorizes the program in order to get those profits. As
expected, the bottom line goes up, the environment goes down. Would
you say the chairman harmed the environment intentionally? (p.1)
Knobe (2006) found an asymmetrical effect, such that while only 23% said that
the chairman in the first scenario had intentionally helped the environment,
in the second scenario, 82% declared that the chairman had intentionally
harmed the environment. Knobe used this result to suggest that judgments of
intentionality, a key concept in philosophy, may actually depend on whether
the action results in positive or negative outcomes.
This type of work, not unusual for those of us involved in the study of
human behavior, is quite novel for those in philosophy. While there is no
expectation, even from those involved in the movement, that it will “solve”
philosophical arguments, and there is expected debate in philosophy as to
whether this is philosophy or not, it does offer a model of how descriptive and
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586 The Academy of Management Annals
normative fields can find common ground. Philosophers, at least a group
of them, have come to the fence. It is time for our field to meet them and
others, such as those in theology, who come from a normative tradition and
likewise understand what they have to offer us in our pursuit to define “ethical
Revisiting Unsubstantiated Assumptions
The field has benefited from the theoretical models that describe ethical deci-
sion making, however, the insights that have been gained are constrained by
the assumptions that govern them. Particularly constraining are those
assumptions that may hold in a specific context, but not when considering the
broader problem of ethical decision making (cf. Sonenshein, 2007). For
instance, numerous models seem to assume that if individuals are able to iden-
tify the ethical choice, then this is the choice they will make. For instance,
Reynolds (2006a) asserted that unethical behavior is the product of misunder-
standing a situation (e.g., not seeing bribery for what it is), holding a false
moral rule (e.g., holding that bribery is ethical), or misapplying a correct moral
rule. Similarly, Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999) argued that when an ethical
frame is adopted, ethical choices will ensue. This assumption—that if individ-
uals are able to identify the moral choice they will act morally—is common
throughout the field and it appears to be overly optimistic in that it does not
account for people who know right from wrong but choose to act unethically.
We cannot assume that the correct moral judgment will not be followed by
immoral behavior (e.g., see Monin et al.’s [2007] discussion on moral tempta-
tion). As our typology of outcomes suggests (Table 13.2), decision makers who
engage in moral decision making have the potential to make ethical as well as
unethical decisions. Researchers should allow for the possibility that individu-
als are capable of knowingly transgressing so that we do not overly restrict our
research domain and variables of study, thus limiting our understanding of
ethical decision making.
Also, as noted, with few exceptions, the majority of models of ethical deci-
sion making to date are exclusively reason-based (Ferrell & Gresham, 1985;
Hunt & Vitell, 1986; Jones, 1991; Rest, 1986; Trevino, 1986). With the recent
research demonstrating that biases (e.g., Messick & Bazerman, 1996), as well
as emotions and intuition do appear to play a role in ethical decision making
(e.g., Haidt, 2001), it will become necessary for theory to relax the assumption
that ethical decision making is exclusively the product of reason. In doing so,
it is unlikely that new boxes and arrows can simply be added to existing mod-
els and theories. Rather, the existence of different types of models may lead to
interesting new questions and insights that will shift the way we think about
existing concepts.
For instance, traditional models of ethical decision making allow for a
clear demarcation between moral awareness and moral judgment (e.g., Rest,
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Ethical Decision Making 587
1986). The former entails recognizing the existence of a moral issue and the
latter entails determining whether a particular action is right or wrong. This
distinction makes sense when one considers ethical decision making to be a
reason-based venture in which decision makers thoughtfully move from one
logically sequential step to the next. Yet, if this assumption is not entirely
accurate, as recent research suggests, then such distinctions are called into
question. As Reynolds (2006a) put it, decision making is not entirely “linear”
and sequential, rather it may best be considered as more simultaneous. If
true, this raises the question as to whether decision makers and ultimately
researchers can really distinguish between moral awareness and moral judg-
ment. Haidt’s (2001) work, discussed earlier, provides a good example. In this
research, participants were asked what they think about siblings having sexual
intercourse (consensual, one-time-only intercourse with no possibility of off-
spring). One can imagine the typical reaction from participants is swift: vehe-
ment disgust for a serious moral transgression. For shock-factor scenarios like
these, which are characterized by a high degree of moral intensity, are aware-
ness and judgment truly distinct? It seems likely that at the same moment that
participants are aware of a moral issue, they are repulsed by the moral trans-
gression that has taken place. This discussion highlights the importance of
investigating moderating factors, such as moral intensity, which may influ-
ence when individual decision making is characterized by discrete phases and
when it is not.
Other research makes assumptions about the distinctions between moral
and amoral decision making. Tenbrunsel and Messick (1999), for example,
argued that a business frame is associated with processing that is calculative
and deliberate whereas an ethical frame is not. While they found support for
this prediction in their study, it remains an empirical question as to whether
this assumption would hold across other contexts. Also, in the current review,
we have classified the research on bounded ethicality as being relevant to
amoral decision making (i.e., decisions makers don’t recognize that the deci-
sion has ethical implications) and the research on biases as being relevant to
moral decision making (i.e., decision makers know it is an ethical decision and
believe they are making an ethical choice but their biases dictate otherwise). In
doing so we felt that we were being consistent with the spirit of both bodies of
literature, but we questioned whether we were unduly limiting the potential of
each by describing them exclusively as either amoral or moral. We hope that
by imposing this categorization we will motivate the researchers in these areas
to address the question of whether the processes they describe are moral,
amoral, or both.
The origin of these assumptions is understandable for a new field has to
begin somewhere and almost by necessity must put constraints on theories in
order to make progress. At this stage of the ethical decision making field, how-
ever, such assumptions unnecessarily limit our understanding and inhibit
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588 The Academy of Management Annals
progress. Revisiting these assumptions is difficult, and it may be perceived to
undermine the previous research that has been based on them. Nevertheless,
rather than being a step backwards, questioning such assumptions will actu-
ally propel the field forward, providing a discontinuous, non-linear leap into a
new set of insights.
Moving Beyond Correlational Research: The Role of Processes and New Theories
As old assumptions are revisited, it will be necessary that the processes behind
ethical decision making are considered within theoretical frameworks. More
research simply demonstrating correlations is unlikely to provide much
insight into the problem of behavioral ethics. Instead researchers should focus
on the processes underlying such correlations by developing, testing, and
refining theory on the same. Empirical research and reviews that have relied
on theory have primarily converged on a single theory: Rest’s (1986) model of
moral decision making. Though this is a very well-developed model that has
been partially supported by empirical research, the field needs to avoid the
temptation toward complacency and look to supplement, replace and chal-
lenge this and other theories when the results do not support it. This model
and other models in the ethics field all represent important theoretical contri-
butions to behavioral ethics; yet, none appear to be complete. As we have
noted elsewhere, most traditional models of ethical decision making, like
Rest’s (1986) model, are reason-based and do not account for the role of
emotion and intuition. Similarly, Haidt’s (2001) intuitionist model relegates
reason largely, though not entirely (Haidt, 2003, 2004), to post hoc rationaliz-
ing. New models, such as that on decision-frames and the signaling-processing
theory (Tenbrunsel and Messick, 1999), bounded ethicality (Banaji & Bhaskar,
2000; Banaji et al., 2003; Chugh et al., 2005), and the temporal perspective
on ethical decision making (Tenbrunsel et al., forthcoming) offer new insights
in the ethical decision-making processes. Attention to these models should
continue, investigating for example, whether there is motivated reasoning
involved in the selection of a frame (e.g., does someone who realizes that there
are two ways to think about this choose to focus on the business frame rather
than the ethical frame) and whether the implicit biases involved in bounded
ethicality can be made explicit. Potentially providing one of the greatest
contributions to the field will be considerations of dual processing within ethi-
cal decision making (e.g., Reynolds, 2006a). That is, while continued research
isolating largely cognitive or largely emotional processes is worthwhile, future
research will also do well to consider the ways in which cognitive and
emotional processes might operate in conjunction with one another (cf.
Cushman et al., 2006; Damasio, 1994).
Moreover, future research on process should consider the distinction
between deliberate and automatic processing and its relation to moral and
amoral decision making. The implicit assumptions of deliberate processing
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Ethical Decision Making 589
within the traditional rationalist models limits theoretical models and their
corresponding research. While moral decision making may involve deliberate
processing in some situations, other situations, such as those involving
extreme violations of morality described by Haidt (2001), may produce
automatic moral decision making; similarly, amoral decision making may be
automatic or deliberate. Clearly specifying the assumptions and processes
behind empirical research will be useful in further diagnosing why it is that
unethical decisions get made. Are they more likely when moral decision mak-
ing is automatic or deliberate? Does it matter if amoral decision making is
automatic or deliberate? Which situational and individual factors lead us down
one path or another? The extension of the deliberate/automaticity debate
might also be fruitfully expanded into considerations of decision frames and
moral awareness. Is moral awareness a conscious, deliberate process or one
that is more automatic?
Fixing Methodological Issues through New Technologies
As noted, the prevalence of moral awareness in ethical-decision-making
research is apparent and, as we believe, with good reason. Unfortunately,
the measurement of this dominant construct is without rigor, thereby render-
ing most of this research suspect. Current measurements of the construct
involve asking participants whether a situation or an issue has moral dimen-
sions, thus creating a serious confound. Future research needs to move
beyond the confounding methododologies utilized currently and instead
focus on the identification of new methods to assess moral awareness, perhaps
by utilizing verbal protocols, short answers, or as described later, new
Future research also needs to continue to move beyond simply assessing
moral awareness and measure what perspective the decision maker has
adopted. As noted, knowing that the decision maker is not looking at the deci-
sion through an ethical frame is not as informative as knowing through which
specific lens that decision maker is looking. Doing so will be useful for not
only understanding why a particular decision has been made, but how one
might alter that outcome. If, for example, we know that a certain situation is
likely to prompt a business versus an ethical frame and in turn to produce
unethical decisions, it may be possible to investigate what factors led to the
prompting of the business frame and the diminishing of the ethical frame, and
how to produce ethical outcomes within the business frame (i.e., by making
“good ethics good business”).
The technological advances made in recent years should not only make
data collection on ethical decision making more efficient, but it has the poten-
tial to address some of the noted methodological problems with previous
empirical research. Work on implicit attitudes (Cunningham, Preacher, &
Banaji, 2001), for example, provides a powerful demonstration of how
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590 The Academy of Management Annals
measuring reaction times to computer prompts can signal discrimination of
which the decision maker may be unaware. Using a similar methodology to
measure which decision frames are activated, and the length of time for the
processing that occurs within frames may prove similarly useful for under-
standing the type of processing (automatic or deliberate) that is activated
under different contexts and help to identify ways in which awareness of one’s
thoughts can be brought to the forefront.
Other technologies offer additional promise. MRI (magnetic resonance
imaging) technology, for example, has recently been used in the relatively new
field of neuroeconomics with exciting revelations. Knutson, Rick, Wimmer,
Prelec and Loewenstein (2007) have used this technology to examine which
parts of the brain are active—i.e., the insular cortex, associated with the antic-
ipation of pain and monetary loss, versus the medial prefrontal cortex, a
region associated with rational analysis—during purchase. They found that
when a product was associated with a high purchase price, the brain’s pain
“processing center” (the insular cortex) was active, and the part of the brain
responsible for logical analysis (the medial prefrontal cortex) was relatively
inactive; on the other hand, when the purchase decision had been made, the
logical analysis portion of the brain was the more active region, suggesting
that the brain had engaged in quick number crunching and consequently
made the decision that the product was a good purchase (Ransdell, 2007). The
pattern was so clear that Knutson and his colleagues were able to look at the
MRI and predict with some degree of accuracy whether subjects were going to
buy or reject a product. These studies contradicted previous wisdom that sug-
gested individuals involved in a purchase decision engaged in an analysis that
compared present cost to future benefits; instead, their results support the the-
ory that the brain is the center of an immediate pain versus an immediate
pleasure battle, with the pain of the purchase price serving as a incredibly
powerful influence on purchase decisions. This type of methodology is tar-
geted to examine further how the “pain of paying” is mitigated in the use of
credit cards, leading to excessive credit-card debt (Ransdell, 2007).
The use of technology like MRI technology likewise offers exciting poten-
tial for the field of ethical decision making. Recent research using MRIs has
demonstrated that different areas of the brain are more active when moral ver-
sus amoral decisions are being considered (Greene et al., 2001; Moll, 2001;
Moll, de Oliveira-Souza, Bramati, & Grafman, 2002; Moll, de Oliveira-Souza,
Eslinger et al., 2002; Moll et al., 2005). Other research has employed this tech-
nology to investigate what types of ethical stimuli seem to elicit more cogni-
tive or more emotional processing (e.g., Borg et al., 2006). This type of analysis
might also be useful for examining moral awareness and thus help to mitigate
the problems associated with its measurement. Furthermore, it might be use-
ful for studying the conditions under which processing is more deliberate and
when it is more automatic.
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Ethical Decision Making 591
Drawing from and Connecting to Other Disciplines
The spread of ethical decision making from a philosophical tradition to a
mainstream, “popular” topic in management in a matter of a decade or two is
perhaps one of the most remarkable achievements in the field. The increase in
the number of articles (see Table 13.1), the presence of reviews of the field
(O’Fallon & Butterfield, 2005; Trevino et al., 2006), the establishment of
the first known dissertation competition in business ethics five years ago
(“Excellence in Ethics: Dissertation Proposal Competition”, University of
Notre Dame) with others that followed, all signify that the field of ethical deci-
sion making is on a trajectory of progress. Monumental leaps in our knowl-
edge of ethical decision making can continue to be made through the
integration of ideas across levels of analysis, academic discipline, and so forth.
As we move forward, such integration needs to be expanded, within the field
of organizational behavior, across business fields and between disciplines that
cross college boundaries.
Within the field of management, a connection between ethical decision
making and organizational ethics—the micro and the macro—could produce
significant new insights. Discussions about ethics at the macro level, such as
the ethical issues of innovation (Easley, 2005; Lee, 2005), corporate philan-
thropy and social responsibility (i.e., see Frank, 1996; Godfrey, 2005; Godfrey
& Hatch, 2007; Hillman & Keim, 2001; Keim, 1978; Margolis & Walsh, 2003;
McWilliams & Siegel, 2001; Porter & Kramer, 2002; Turban & Greening, 1996;
Walsh, Weber & Margolis, 2003) and corporate goodness (Bradley, Brief, &
Smith-Crowe, 2008; see also Caza, Barker, & Cameron, 2004), could benefit
from an extrapolation of influences on ethical decision making—including the
individual and situational characteristics identified previously—to group and
firm level variables, such as leadership, team characteristics, and the institu-
tional infrastructure. Similarly, findings about firm-level variables, such as
what constitutes an ethical firm, will likely have implications for employee-
level behavior within such firms.
One of the notable achievements moving forward may also come from the
spread of this research area to other business disciplines and the additional
potential that serves for providing an opportunity for interdisciplinary work.
Research on ethics in finance, for example, has examined the connection
between self-interest, self-deception, and an ethics of theorizing in economics
(Khan, 2004); the role of financial institutions in providing information
and enforcing contracts (Cosimano, 2004); the ethics of financial reporting
embedded in its broader context of the Global Reporting Initiative and a new
(i.e., “balanced”) concept of the firm (Enderle, 2004); and the ethics associated
with the mutual fund industry, including the practice of mutual fund incuba-
tion (Ackermann & Loughran, 2007), and the abuse associated with annual
operating expenses (Houge & Wellman, 2007a, b). In marketing, ethical
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592 The Academy of Management Annals
examinations include those focused on the role of marketing to disadvantaged
consumers, such as children (Moore, 2004); employee perceptions of value
statements (Urbany, 2005); and on the central role that marketing and
consumer theory plays in damaging our societal underpinnings (Laczniak &
Murphy, 2006), including promoting situations of “consumer hyperchoice”
(Mick, Broniarczyk, & Haidt, 2004), and creating a reductionist and harmful
view of human beings (Nixon, 2007). Research on ethical decision making in
accounting has looked, for example, at ethical issues in the provision of non-
audit services (Ashbaugh, 2004); CEO compensation and corporate gover-
nance functions (Matsumura & Shin, 2005; Vera-Munoz, 2005); the provision
of retirement plans (Mittelstaedt, 2004); the role of state boards and profes-
sional regulations (Misciewicz, 2007); and the auditor’s assessment of the
client’s integrity (Martin, 2007). While not intended by any means as an
exhaustive list, the activity in these other disciplines highlights the value that
the business disciplines can provide each other in the study of ethics, illumi-
nating, for example, relevant contexts in which ethical decision making is
important and the value that an understanding of ethical decision making can
provide to these disciplines.
Integration across non-business disciplines could also provide new per-
spectives. Connections to moral philosophy, for example, would not only help
in determining what is ethical as discussed previously, but work on ethical
decision making should also be useful in informing moral philosophy about
the psychological processes and distortions that characterize moral reasoning
(Tenbrunsel, 1998). In the organizational behavior field, for example, the eth-
ical aspects of compensation systems have been raised as an important issue
(Bloom, 2004). Moral philosophy can be useful in identifying the criteria of a
just system and likewise, work on ethical decision making can inform moral
philosophy of biases derived from flawed theories about ourselves and others
that could produce a flawed, discriminatory system despite the adherence to
such principles. Similarly, connections to social psychology can also help
to further understand the decision processes involved in ethical dilemmas
(Messick & Tenbrunsel, 1996), whereas integration with sociology might shed
additional insight on ethics at the level of the organization (e.g., Vaughan,
Disentangling the Outcomes of Ethical Decisions
While not much research has investigated the processes associated with ethi-
cal behavior, even less has focused on the outcomes of unethical behavior.
Trevino et al.’s (2006) recent review nicely discusses the importance of consid-
ering the dependent variable when theorizing about ethical decision making.
As she argues, different theories may be more applicable when one considers
different outcomes, with equity theory perhaps being more applicable to
employee theft prompted by pay cuts and other theories, such as role conflict,
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Ethical Decision Making 593
being more applicable to lying as a dependent variable. We agree and argue
that the consideration of intentionality alongside the type of outcome is
potentially even more valuable. It is possible that an unintentional unethical
act will result in more severe consequences than an intentional unethical act
because decision makers are unaware that they have behaved unethically;
consequently, they might not have engaged in the “cover up” or impression
management strategies that someone who intentionally behaved unethically
might engage in. On the flip-side, an unintentional ethical act may lead to
unexpected trust, a trust which a decision maker who intentionally behaved
ethically may expect to receive, or unexpected informal sanctions from those
who wish to promote an unethical culture within the organization. Under-
standing the intentionality of actors in combination with their outcomes
should be useful in understanding how the consequences of previous ethical
or unethical actions—both those that are expected and those that are unex-
pected—influence the decision to behave ethically or unethically in the future.
In addition, researchers often seem to take for granted that ethical deci-
sions will necessarily have subsequent positive outcomes. Certainly, as in the
case of whistle-blowers, doing the right thing can have negative consequences
for the whistle-blowers themselves. Moreover, ethical decisions can have
more far-reaching negative consequences. For example, Norton and his col-
leagues (Norton, Sommers, Apfelbaum, Pura, & Ariely, 2006) found that their
white participants’ attempts to be politically correct adversely affected their
performance in a task in which they had to describe other individuals. When
paired with a black partner, white participants were loathe to describe these
individuals by race to the detriment of their task performance. Further, in
avoiding the issue of race, white participants’ body language was awkward to
the point of appearing unfriendly. Norton et al.’s research suggests that even
the best of intentions do not always pan out, and that researchers should con-
sider whether ethical decisions and behavior will necessarily have subsequent
positive outcomes.
The ethical-decision-making field of organizational scholarship is alive and
vibrant. It is an exciting story to tell, for it is not a story of resurrection; rather,
it is one of growth and possibilities. Unlike in the past, researchers no longer
need to justify their rationale for studying ethics; instead, their attention needs
to focus on developing a more comprehensive theoretical platform upon
which empirical work in behavioral ethics can continue. A great deal of
empirical research has been conducted to examine many individual and situa-
tional antecedents to ethical and unethical decision making but the field will
not survive if it continues down that path. Rather, we need to engage in the
difficult and frustrating work of breaking down old assumptions, building
new theories, and utilizing new technologies. If this can be done—and we are
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594 The Academy of Management Annals
confident it can be—the next review on ethical decision making in organiza-
tions will highlight the fulfillment of the promises that are currently just
within our grasp.
We are very grateful to Jim Walsh and Art Brief who encouraged us to push the
boundaries of the business ethics topic. We are also grateful to Max Bazerman,
Dave Messick, and Danielle Warren for their very insightful comments on
earlier drafts, and to Maryam Kouchaki and Scott Gaglio for their research
assistance and helpful comments on an earlier draft.
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... This study builds on the proposition that the decision-making process of individual purchasing managers plays a crucial role in supplier selection, as a key element of sustainable operations management (Kleindorfer et al., 2005;Pagell and Gobeli, 2009) and responsible procurement (Agrawal and Lee, 2019;Villena, 2019). Drawing on the ethical decision-making literature (Tenbrunsel and Messick, 1999;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008), we examine supplier selection decisions that involve trade-offs between operationally and ethically betterperforming suppliers, which can be characterized as "difficult decisions" with potential tensions between short-term profit maximization and sustainability (Wu and Pagell, 2011;Saunders et al., 2020). ...
... To answer our research questions, we investigate individuals' decision-making processes within the business and ethics frames, as outlined in the ethical decision-making literature (e.g. Kern and Chugh, 2009;Tenbrunsel and Messick, 1999;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008). Decision frames represent what the individual decision-maker perceives to be the dominant characteristics of the decision situation (Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008). ...
... Kern and Chugh, 2009;Tenbrunsel and Messick, 1999;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008). Decision frames represent what the individual decision-maker perceives to be the dominant characteristics of the decision situation (Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008). These are not the only characteristics that the decision-maker perceives, but the ones perceived as most important or defining of the situation. ...
Purpose Firms are increasingly required to make ethical choices when selecting suppliers for their supply chains, and the decisions often rest on individual purchasing managers within the firm. This study builds on the literature on ethical decision-making and the concept of decision frames to investigate the decision-making process of purchasing managers in financially distressed firms. Codes of Conduct (CoC) and how they are enforced (financial rewards and codified procedures for oversight) are studied in terms of their effectiveness in informing and guiding purchasing managers in their supplier selection decisions. Design/methodology/approach Four sequential experiments were conducted with a total of 648 purchasing managers from manufacturing firms. Findings The results indicate that purchasing managers in firms facing financial distress are more than four times more likely than purchasing managers in the control groups to select the less ethical supplier in favor of better operational performance. As a potential remedy, it is found that enforcing the firm's CoC help to counteract this tendency and increase ethical supplier selection decisions by 2.1- to 2.6-fold. However, CoC enforcement that invokes multiple conflicting decision frames simultaneously is more likely to impair than promote ethical supplier selection decisions, compared to situations where only one enforcement method is present. Originality/value These findings develop an improved understanding of purchasers' decision-making processes and shed light on how to effectively use CoCs to guide these decisions.
... In addition, some participants perceived themselves to be victims of a conspiracy. In line with the typology of ethical decision outcomes [61], participants engaged in corruption both intentionally and unintentionally. ...
... While pull reasons for corruption fit with the notion that bad people intentionally make bad decisions [61], the push reasons listed by our participants suggest that scholars should consider the possibility of unintentional corrupt behavior. While we used rational decision-making theory [20] as a framework for our research, our findings indicated that decision-making in corruption can be both rational and intuitive. ...
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Past corruption research at the individual level has mainly focused on demographics, personality, attitudes, or morality related variables. Until now, only a few studies have focused on the intra -individual psychological mechanisms of corruption. Building on normative decision-making theory, the present study attempts to shed further light on the internal mechanisms that lead to the decision that corruption is a viable path. Following an informed grounded theory approach, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 38 Indonesian prisoners who have been convicted of corruption. Guided by a multi-step decision-making process, including problem recognition, information search, and evaluation of the information, our results revealed unique insights into individuals’ considerations that led to corruption. We elaborate on interrelations between these stages and explore new forms of corrupt decision-making elements within this process. Theoretical implications for corruption research and the practical implications for anti-corruption programs of these findings are discussed.
... According to this definition, individuals have moral awareness when they see and give weight to moral considerations in a particular choice or situation, and they lack moral awareness when they fail to see or do not give weight to moral considerations. Moral awareness is considered a first step in the moral decision-making process and increases the likelihood of ethical decisions (Butterfield et al., 2000;Rest, 1986;Solinger et al., 2020;Tenbrunsel & Smith-Crowe, 2008). While people can come to an ethical decision without moral awareness through an "amoral decision-making" process, ethical decisions are more commonly the result of decision-makers maintaining or developing an awareness of and placing importance upon the moral implications of the choices they face Tenbrunsel & Smith-Crowe, 2008). ...
... Moral awareness is considered a first step in the moral decision-making process and increases the likelihood of ethical decisions (Butterfield et al., 2000;Rest, 1986;Solinger et al., 2020;Tenbrunsel & Smith-Crowe, 2008). While people can come to an ethical decision without moral awareness through an "amoral decision-making" process, ethical decisions are more commonly the result of decision-makers maintaining or developing an awareness of and placing importance upon the moral implications of the choices they face Tenbrunsel & Smith-Crowe, 2008). As such, we consider the ability to influence peers' moral awareness in discussions of business cases a meaningful and consequential operationalization of influence. ...
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Objective: We introduce the concept of moral beacons-individuals who are higher in moral character than their peers and prominent within their social environment-and examine the degree to which moral beacons increase the moral awareness of their peers. Background: Using data from cohorts of students in graduate business education across two universities, we applied theory and methods from organizational behavior, personality psychology, and social networks analysis to test two research questions about moral beacons. Method: We used latent profile analysis of data from personality questionnaires and social network surveys completed by graduate business students at two universities (N = 502) to identify individuals classified as moral beacons. We used peer nominations and an in-class business case discussion exercise to assess moral influence. Results: Latent profile analysis identified a latent class of moral beacons in our sample. These individuals received more nominations from their peers in end-of-class surveys as guides for moral thought and action and positively impacted the moral awareness of their peers in a discussion of a difficult business case about possible lead poisoning of employees, but did not significantly change their counterparts' moral awareness in a different case. Conclusions: These results provide promising initial evidence that moral beacons can be distinguished from their peers by both moral character and social prominence and can act as guides for others, at times encouraging greater consideration of the moral aspects of situations and decisions. As these results are the first of their kind, we encourage further replication and investigations of moral beacons and moral influence in other settings.
... Past decades have witnessed a growing body of research contributing to our knowledge about the antecedents and consequences of unethical behavior (Treviño, 1986;Ford and Richardson, 1994;O'Fallon and Butterfield, 2005;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008;Bazerman and Gino, 2012;Treviño et al., 2014). However, empirical research examining unethical behavior in group-based competitions is limited. ...
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A growing body of research contributes to our knowledge about unethical behavior. However, very little is known about how group-based competition shape members’ unethical behavior. Building on social learning theory, we conducted three studies to reveal how group-based competition may affect individual’s unethical behavior for their team. Study 1 and 2 are laboratory experiments in which participants were randomly assigned into groups of three members and engaged in group-based competition (or engaged in individual-based competition in an individual context) with monetary incentives. Different from individual-based competition where mean number of unethical behaviors for the self in the losing condition was larger than that in the winning condition, in group-based competition mean number of unethical behaviors in favor of group between the winning and the losing condition was not significantly different. Both studies also showed that there are less unethical behaviors in the group-based competition than in the individual-based competition. Study 2 further revealed that collective efficacy negatively associated with mean number of unethical behaviors in group-based competition. Study 3 was a field study with employees from bank subsidiaries working as teams, and results from their self-reported data confirm the relationship between collective efficacy and unethical behaviors observed in Study 2. Together, these results suggest that collective efficacy has the effect of curbing unethical behavior in group-based competition, thus contributing to the understanding of group-based experience on unethical behaviors.
... Keďže táto problematika je nesmierne zložitá, veda predostiera rôzne modely etického rozhodovania ako zjednodušujúcich reprezentácií komplexnej reality rozhodovania (napríklad Jones, 1991;McDevitt a kol., 2007;Rest, 1986;Tenbrunsel a Smith-Crowe, 2008;Trevino, 1985). Podľa Schwartza (2016) možno vymedziť dva typy modelov etického rozhodovania -(1) racionalistické modely, ktoré predpokladajú, že etické rozhodovanie je prevažne rozumový proces, pri ktorom sa človek zažívajúci etickú dilemu snaží vyriešiť problém logicky a racionálne na základe zvažovania rôznych morálnych noriem, ktoré môžu byť vo vzájomnom konflikte a (2) neracionalistické (intuitívno-emotívne) modely, ktoré predpokladajú, že človek je schopný rýchleho vhľadu a pochopenia podstaty morálneho problému aj bez predchádzajúcej logickej analýzy, t. j. pri riešení dilemy sa človek rozhoduje v prvom rade na základe náhlej morálnej intuície a pocitov a až neskôr, v prípade potreby, nastupuje racionálne zvažovanie možných alternatív. ...
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Cieľom kapitoly je uviesť študentov do problematiky manažérskej etiky ako špecifickej profesijnej etiky a následne objasniť podstatu spoločenskej zodpovednosti podnikov, ktorá je jednou zo základných koncepcií podnikateľskej etiky. Manažéri sú, respektíve by mali byť hlavnými nositeľmi myšlienok spoločenskej zodpovednosti, keďže z titulu svojej pozície a zvýšených rozhodovacích právomocí nesú zodpovednosť za etické fungovanie podniku a sprostredkovane aj podnikania ako spoločenskej inštitúcie, ktorá koexistuje v prostredí spolu s inými spoločenskými inštitúciami. Zároveň manažéri nesú zodpovednosť aj za vzťahy podniku voči externým zainteresovaným stranám (externým stakeholderom) a tiež za vzťahy medzi internými zainteresovanými stranami vo vnútri podniku (napríklad zamestnanci, vlastníci). Vzdelávacím výstupom kapitoly je pochopenie dôvodov, prečo by sa manažér mal správať eticky a v čom vlastne spočíva etický rozmer manažérskej práce. Zároveň ide aj o pochopenie podstaty koncepcie spoločenskej zodpovednosti podnikov, jej teoretických východísk a jej jednotlivých úrovní. Dôvodom spojenia oboch ťažiskový tém je, že bez reálnej manažérskej podpory pre ideu spoločenskej zodpovednosti, nie je možné, aby podnik fungoval skutočne zodpovedne vo vzťahu k zainteresovaným stranám.
... Keďže táto problematika je nesmierne zložitá, veda predostiera rôzne modely etického rozhodovania ako zjednodušujúcich reprezentácií komplexnej reality rozhodovania (napríklad Jones, 1991;McDevitt a kol., 2007;Rest, 1986;Tenbrunsel a Smith-Crowe, 2008;Trevino, 1985). Podľa Schwartza (2016) možno vymedziť dva typy modelov etického rozhodovania -(1) racionalistické modely, ktoré predpokladajú, že etické rozhodovanie je prevažne rozumový proces, pri ktorom sa človek zažívajúci etickú dilemu snaží vyriešiť problém logicky a racionálne na základe zvažovania rôznych morálnych noriem, ktoré môžu byť vo vzájomnom konflikte a (2) neracionalistické (intuitívno-emotívne) modely, ktoré predpokladajú, že človek je schopný rýchleho vhľadu a pochopenia podstaty morálneho problému aj bez predchádzajúcej logickej analýzy, t. j. pri riešení dilemy sa človek rozhoduje v prvom rade na základe náhlej morálnej intuície a pocitov a až neskôr, v prípade potreby, nastupuje racionálne zvažovanie možných alternatív. ...
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Vysokoškolská učebnica oboznamuje čitateľa so širokou paletou manažérskych tém, autorov a ich prístupov zasadených do súčasného trhového prostredia. Obsahuje dvadsať na seba nadväzujúcich kapitol zahŕňajúcich teoretické vymedzenia základných termínov, charakteristiky teórií a ich uplatnenie v manažérskej praxi. V každej kapitole sú v úvode uvedené jej ciele a vzdelávacie výstupy. Záverečná časť každej kapitoly obsahuje témy na diskusiu a kontrolné otázky vo forme testu spolu so správnymi odpoveďami na vyhodnotenie úspešnosti samoštúdia a miery, do akej čitateľ zvládol požadovaný vzdelávací výstup danej kapitoly. Publikácia sleduje najmä didaktické ciele a viaceré kapitoly nadväzujú a vychádzajú z publikovaných prác autorov, ktorí sa vedecky a pedagogicky venujú konkrétnej spracovávanej oblasti.
... Although many individuals behave unethically because they intend to do so, others may be blinded to the fact that the behavior they attempt to do is actually unethical (Barsky, 2008;Reynolds, 2006). A basic proposition in ethical decision-making theory is that individuals who lack moral awareness are more likely to decide based on nonmoral considerations and behave unethically (Rest, 1986;Jones, 1991;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008;Barsky, 2008). Thus, impaired moral awareness may be more relevant to abusive supervisory behavior because supervisors often engage in abusive behavior without aggressive intentions (Aryee et al., 2007). ...
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We explore in this study whether, how, and when time pressure leads to abusive supervisory behavior. Based on the attentional focus model, we propose that time pressure impairs supervisors’ moral awareness, which increases their subsequent abusive supervisory behavior. We also propose that the trait mindfulness of supervisors mitigates the indirect effect of time pressure on abusive supervisory behavior through moral awareness. Based on an experiment conducted by using eye-tracking methods, Study 1 tests and provides support for the relationships between time pressure and moral awareness (N = 53). In Study 2, we test our full theoretical model through an experience sampling methodology for 10 workdays with data from 61 supervisors and their subordinates. Results revealed that time pressure had an indirect and positive effect on abusive supervisory behavior through the supervisors’ moral awareness. Such an indirect effect was stronger when the trait mindfulness of the supervisors was low rather than high. We conclude this research by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of our findings as well as future research directions.
... Ideally, the boundaries of our systematic literature review and research agenda would be defined by a broadly accepted definition of ethics. However, there is much disagreement about how ethics should be defined (Tenbrunsel & Smith-Crowe, 2008). Therefore, it is unsurprising that neither the sales nor the ethics literature offers a broadly accepted definition. ...
The scholarly literature at the intersection of sales and ethics is vast and, therefore, difficult to summarize. To explore the state of the sales–ethics landscape, the authors apply probabilistic topic modeling to a dataset composed of 293 journal articles published from 1980 to 2022. The critical examination of the results leads to a framework that identifies 32 topics and groups these topics into five high-level topic areas. Building on these topics and topic areas, the authors explore where future research on sales and ethics should focus, using in-depth interviews with 30 scholars and 15 practitioners. The results of these interviews reveal important implications for sales and ethics and overarching research questions regarding (1) understanding existing realities, (2) understanding new realities, and (3) advancing research practices. In doing so, this study provides a platform for much-needed research and scholarly discourse on sales and ethics.
... Morality and ethics, often used interchangeably, are terms that describe right and wrong behavioral standards in society. Despite previous debate and definitional ambiguity in the organizational behavior literature (Bazerman and Gino, 2012;Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe, 2008), there is now a growing consensus among social scientists that right and wrong should be conceptualized as a construct that impacts the regulation of social relationships and facilitates group interactions (Graham et al., 2011;Haidt and Kesebir, 2010;Janoff-Bulman and Carnes, 2013;Rai and Fiske, 2011). The importance of ethical and moral considerations in technology acceptance is emphasized by potential risks to privacy, security, or social justice (Cavoukian, 2013;Wakunuma and Masika, 2017), as well as the potential to reinforce or undermine existing power structures and social inequalities (Liu, 2018), or disproportionately harm marginalized communities (Clayton and Macdonald, 2013;Mariano et al., 2020). ...
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As the workforce navigates the post-pandemic age and encounters substantial changes/challenges in the digital transformation required to keep organizations competitive, the necessity to adopt new technology becomes more salient. However, the literature supports that the ethical/moral values of workers may limit acceptance of technology because perceptions of the technology may be in conflict with their beliefs. This research investigates the impact of moral and ethical attitudes on general technology acceptance to discover whether positively framed moral and ethical attributes influence perceptions of general technology acceptance for potential new technologies. In this study, components from the Technology Acceptance Model and the Light Triad were used to sample 396 individuals from various industries with a two-part survey. The findings suggest that ethical/moral self-perceptions have a role in the early acceptance of technology via significant connections found between both humanism and Kantianism on perceived ease of use but not perceived usefulness. Theoretical implications, recommendations for future research, and suggested managerial implications are made based on these ethical and moral attitudes in technology acceptance.
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In contrast to the prevailing interindividual and interactionist perspectives on (un)ethical behavior, recent research has demonstrated that employees can dynamically transition between ethical and unethical behavior as part of an intraindividual moral self-regulation process.We review over 300 empirical studies that examined within-person processes (e.g., moral licensing, moral cleansing, and slippery slope) as explanations for a variety of organizationally relevant behaviors (e.g., [un]ethical behavior, organizational citizenship behaviors, and counterproductive work behaviors). From our review, we develop a multistage model that integrates the influences of individual traits and contextual factors with intraindividual moral self-regulation processes. Combining findings from diverse research domains (e.g., management, psychology, marketing, and economics), we emphasize the importance of these factors in understanding the evaluation of initial and compensatory (un)ethical behavior, the selection of targets for compensatory behavior, and shifts immoral reference points. In doing so, we highlight conceptual, empirical, and methods-related contributions to this literature, and we identify paths for future research that integrates different perspectives on behavioral ethics.
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Research on moral judgment has been dominated by rationalist models, in which moral judgment is thought to be caused by moral reasoning. The author gives 4 reasons for considering the hypothesis that moral reasoning does not cause moral judgment; rather, moral reasoning is usually a post hoc construction, generated after a judgment has been reached. The social intuitionist model is presented as an alternative to rationalist models. The model is a social model in that it deemphasizes the private reasoning done by individuals and emphasizes instead the importance of social and cultural influences. The model is an intuitionist model in that it states that moral judgment is generally the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions). The model is more consistent than rationalist models with recent findings in social, cultural, evolutionary, and biological psychology, as well as in anthropology and primatology.
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A series of studies explored how sadness impacts the accuracy of social judgments. In Study 1, induced sadness led to reduced accuracy in judgments of teacher effectiveness from brief samples of nonverbal behavior (thin slices). In Study 2, sad participants showed reduced accuracy in judging relationship type from thin slices as well as diminished judgmental efficiency. Study 3 revealed that higher Beck Depression Inventory scores were associated with diminished accuracy on the Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity. Finally, Study 4 tested the possibility that sadness impairs accuracy by promoting a more deliberative information-processing style. As expected, accuracy was higher among participants in a sad mood condition who completed the judgment task while simultaneously performing a distracting cognitive load task.
Decision making in organizations is often pictured as a coherent and rational process in which alternative interests and perspectives are considered in an orderly manner until the optimal alternative is selected. Yet, as many members of organizations have discovered from their own experience, real decision processes in organizations only seldom fit such a description. This book brings together researchers who focus on cognitive aspects of decision processes, on the one hand, and those who study organizational aspects such as conflict, incentives, power, and ambiguity, on the other. It draws from the tradition of Herbert Simon, who studied organizational decision making's pervasive use of bounded rationality and heuristics of reasoning. These multiple perspectives may further our understanding of organizational decision making. Organizational Decision Making is particularly well suited for students and faculties of business, psychology, and public administration.
We test the relationship between shareholder value, stakeholder management, and social issue participation. Building better relations with primary stakeholders like employees, customers, suppliers, and communities could lead to increased shareholder wealth by helping firms develop intangible, valuable assets which can be sources of competitive advantage. On the other hand, using corporate resources for social issues not related to primary stakeholders may not create value for shareholders. We test these propositions with data from S&P 500 firms and find evidence that stakeholder management leads to improved shareholder value, while social issue participation is negatively associated with shareholder value. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
This review summarizes and critiques the empirical ethical decision-making literature from 1996 to 2003. One hundred and seventy-four articles were published in top business journals during this period. Tables are included that summarize the findings by dependent variable – awareness, judgment, intent, and behavior. We compare this review with past reviews in order to draw conclusions regarding trends in the ethical decision-making literature and to surface directions for future research.
This paper examines the influence of surveillance and sanctioning systems on cooperative behavior in dilemma situations. The first study provides evidence that a weak sanctioning system can actually result in less cooperation than no sanctioning system at all and suggests that one reason for this effect is that sanctions affect the type of decision that individuals perceive that they are making, prompting a concentration on the business versus ethical aspects of the decision. Based on this finding, a theoretical model is then presented that postulates that the relationship between sanctions and cooperation is due to both a signaling effect, in which sanctions influence the type of decision that is made, and a processing effect, in which the decision processing that occurs, including whether or not the strength of the sanction is considered, is dependent on the decision frame that has been evoked. A second study provides support for the processing effect hypothesis. Theoretical and managerial implications of these findings are discussed.