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Triggers of Acute Changes in Ethical Attitude

Do Honour Codes cause Priming Effects?

Master's Thesis 2011 60 Pages

Business economics - Business Ethics, Corporate Ethics

Excerpt

CONTENT

1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 BACKGROUND
1.1.1 THE ORIGIN OF DECEPTION
1.1.2 DEFINITION OF ETHICS AND MORALE
1.1.3 THE SELF IN THE REGULATION OF BEHAVIOUR
1.1.4 STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
1.1.5 SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY OF MORALITY
1.1.6 INFLUENCING MORAL AWARENESS USING PSYCHOLOGICAL PRIMING
1.1.7 MORAL ATTENTIVENESS, MORAL IDENTITY, AND SOCIAL CONSENSUS
1.1.8 PSYCHOLOGICAL DISSONANCE AND SELF-DECEPTION
1.1.9 MORAL DISENGAGEMENT AND IMMORAL BEHAVIOUR
1.2 PROBLEM DISCUSSION
1.2.1 REASONS FOR DISHONEST BEHAVIOUR IN ECONOMIC CONTEXTS
1.2.2 THE STATE OF RESEARCH IN BUSINESS ETHICS
1.2.3 POTENTIAL REMEDIES AGAINST UNETHICAL BEHAVIOUR
1.3 PROBLEM FORMULATION AND PURPOSE
1.3.1 PROBLEM FORMULATION
1.3.2 HYPOTHESES DEVELOPED FROM THE LITERATURE REVIEW
1.3.3 STUDY PURPOSE
1.4 DE-LIMITATIONS
1.5 THESIS STRUCTURE

2 LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 TACKLING THE MAIN REASONS FOR UNETHICAL BEHAVIOUR
2.2 TEACHING ETHICS IN COURSES
2.3 BUSINESS ETHICAL CODES OF CONDUCT (BECC)
2.4 EFFECTS OF BECC ON CORPORATE BEHAVIOUR
2.5 BUSINESS CODES IN LABORATORY EXPERIMENTS
2.6 CONTENT AND STRUCTURE OF BUSINESS CODES

3 METHODS
3.1 MEASURING MORALE AND ETHICS
3.1.1 CONTROLLING FOR GENDER, SOCIAL STATUS AND CULTURE FACTORS
3.1.2 METHODS, TESTS, AND SCALES MEASURING ETHICAL VALUES
3.1.3 MDS: MORAL DISENGAGEMENT SCALE
3.1.4 DIT: DEFINING ISSUES TEST
3.1.5 MJT: MORAL JUDGEMENT TEST
3.1.6 EPQ: ETHICS POSITION QUESTIONNAIRE
3.1.7 MACH IV: MACHIAVELLIANISM
3.1.8 MES: THE MULTIDIMENSIONAL ETHICS SCALE
3.1.9 SELECTION OF MOST APPROPRIATE TEST FOR THESIS
3.1.10 VALIDITY OF THE MEASUREMENTS
3.1.11 RELIABILITY OF THE MEASUREMENTS
3.2 DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
3.2.1 SAMPLING OF THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE EXPERIMENT SURVEY
3.2.2 DESIGN AND EXECUTION OF THE EXPERIMENT SURVEY
3.2.3 PROS AND CONS OF AN ONLINE EXPERIMENT SURVEY
3.3 ANALYSIS AND STATISTICS

4 RESULTS
4.1 PARTICIPANTS’ DEMOGRAPHICS
4.1.1 GENDER
4.1.2 AGE
4.1.3 NATIONALITY
4.1.4 EDUCATION
4.2 EFFECT OF DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE PARTICIPANTS
4.2.1 GENDER COMPARISON
4.2.2 AGE CORRELATION
4.2.3 EDUCATION EFFECT
4.3 MORAL DISENGAGEMENT: 6 STATEMENTS TEST
4.3.1 EXPERIMENT 1: EFFECT OF BECC ON MORAL DISENGAGEMENT
4.3.2 EXPERIMENT 2: EFFECT OF HONEST VERSUS DISHONEST BEHAVIOUR
4.4 COMPARING RESULTS IN EXPERIMENT ONE AND TWO
4.5 MORAL DISENGAGEMENT: 32 STATEMENTS TEST (EXP. 3)
4.5.1 MORAL JUSTIFICATION
4.5.2 EUPHEMISTIC LANGUAGE
4.5.3 ADVANTAGEOUS COMPARISON
4.5.4 DIFFUSION OF RESPONSIBILITY
4.5.5 DISPLACEMENT OF RESPONSIBILITY
4.5.6 DISTORTING CONSEQUENCES
4.5.7 DEHUMANIZATION
4.5.8 BLAME
4.5.9 COMBINED RESULTS FOR THE 32 QUESTIONS TEST

5 DISCUSSION
5.1 HYPOTHESIS 1: ARE BECC EFFECTIVE?
5.1.1 BECC IN EXPERIMENT 1
5.1.2 BECC IN EXPERIMENT 3
5.2 HYPOTHESIS 2: HONESTY VERSUS DISHONESTY
5.2.1 EXPERIMENT 2
5.2.2 COMBINING RESULTS FROM EXPERIMENT 1 AND 2
5.3 HYPOTHESIS 3: DISENGAGEMENT EXAMINED IN MORE DETAIL
5.3.1 EXPERIMENT 3
5.4 HYPOTHESIS 4: GENDER EFFECTS
5.4.1 MERE EXPOSURE EFFECT AND GENDER
5.5 HYPOTHESIS 5: AGE AND SOCIO-ECONOMICAL EFFECTS
5.5.1 EFFECT OF AGE ON MORAL RATINGS
5.5.2 EFFECT OF SOCIO-ECONOMICS ON ETHICAL RATINGS

6 CONCLUSIONS, IMPLICATIONS, FUTURE ASPECTS
6.1 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
6.1.1 HYPOTHESIS 1
6.1.2 HYPOTHESIS 2
6.1.3 HYPOTHESIS 3
6.1.4 HYPOTHESIS 4
6.1.5 HYPOTHESIS 5
6.1.6 REVISITING STUDY PURPOSE
6.2 IMPLICATIONS
6.3 SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

ABSTRACT

The recent turbulences that led to a global financial crisis have partially been triggered by immoral and overly egoistic behaviour. In the wake of the disaster many have asked, and keep asking, how a sustainable and socially fair economy can be build. Ethics is one of the cornerstones of human interaction in general and in economic interaction. This thesis has been inspired by the question: How can unethical behaviour be avoided?

This Master Thesis work has dealt with the question of how ethics in general can be improved. In today’s business world Business Ethical Codes of Conduct (BECC), or more commonly called honour codes, have reached some prominence. However, the question remains still unanswered as to if these measures are really effective, and if so, how efficient they are.

This thesis investigated the effect of a BECC by having individuals read it and measuring their ethical attitude by answering a questionnaire. The results were compared to a group not reading the BECC prior to answering the questionnaire. The aim was to investigate if a BECC has an acute effect that may be based on psychological priming. The results do not suggest that a BECC causes a strong shift in moral thinking in the short term, or even acutely.

Additionally, as a control, other groups of individuals were given a story to read that presented a moral dilemma. The test-subjects were asked how they would react in the described situation. The respondents were divided into two groups for analysis, the ones who chose the ethical response and the ones who chose the unethical response. In contrast to the BECC-experiment described above, the unethically responding participants showed a strong decrease in their reported moral values, confirming the validity and functionality of the ethical test itself.

In addition, the study arrived at some intriguing findings that it did not set out to discover. The reading of the dilemma itself reduced reported moral values. To the knowledge of the author, to date only one study has investigated and shown the same effect that is generally known to psychology as the mere-exposure effect.

A side-alley of investigation was the question whether previous findings on the correlation of age, socio-economic status, and gender (sex) could be confirmed. The previous reports have been contradictory in their findings.

The current thesis found supporting evidence that age is positively correlated with moral thinking, i.e. growing age correlated with strengthened moral values, which means that individuals agree more with ethical concepts the older they become. In addition, while socio-economic status did not show any correlation with moral thinking, gender did correlate with ethical values in certain respects. It could be shown, that the above mentioned mere-exposure effect exists for the males but not the females in the test-groups.

In summary, changing ethical attitude is possible. However, controlling ethics, i.e. directional influence, is apparently a complicated business that needs more research.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Jan Svanberg, my supervisor for valuable advice, interesting discussions and stimulating conversations. I highly appreciate your enthusiasm and your uncomplicated and kind attitude, and am very thankful for sending me on an interesting journey that has taught me new lessons and given me exciting new insights into a field that I was ignorant about before.

I would also like to thank all students in my BTH management course. I am amazed by everyone’s kindness and the will to help that I have been allowed to experience.

I would also like to thank the friends who have had an open ear for my reflections about my studies and the thesis topic, which has allowed me to see things from different angles and motivated me to excel, namely Jörg Albrecht, Dr. Patrick Simon, Ralf Kitz and Ulrich Poth.

This work would also not have been possible without the support of my superiors and current as well as former colleagues at antibodies-online who back me up if need be and lighten up my professional live with their great team-attitude and their humour. I would like to mention my friends at work: Alex Golubowitsch, Marcel Ahne, Michael Stasius, Nadine Knabben-Palmen, Nicole Grzondziel, Oliver König, Peggy Heine, Rene von der Forst, Rita Rotmann, Stefan Ullerich, Taraneh Motakef, and Yvonne Storms. Thanks also to Ivan Mitew for the help with the cover design.

My special gratitude belongs to my colleague Philipp Eckerle, who helped me with advice regarding the practical execution of the study and stimulating discussions about economics and the tools used in economical research.

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

(“Handle nur nach derjenigen Maxime, durch die du zugleich wollen kannst, dass sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde.”)

Immanuel Kant [ ˈmaːnueːl ˈkant] (1724-1804), German philosopher.

Most importantly: These acknowledgments would not be complete without expressing my deep gratitude to my family, who always supports and motivates me with their unlimited encouragement, their limitless trust in me and my capabilities, and their endless and unconditional love: Rita Krämer, Elisabeth Krämer, Matthias Krämer, Hans Krämer and my beloved brother Niklas Krämer. I am eternally grateful to know you.

Naturally there are many individuals who I would simply like to thank, for making my life an exciting journey, (un)fortunately they are too numerous to fit on this sheet of paper.

FIGURES AND TABLES

FIGURE 1: STRATEGIES OF MORAL DISENGAGEMENT

FIGURE 2: HYPOTHESES DEVELOPED FOR THESIS SUMMARIZED

FIGURE 3: FORCES LEADING TO THE CREATION OF A BECC

FIGURE 4: GENDER DISTRIBUTION

FIGURE 5: AGE OF PARTICIPANTS

FIGURE 6: NATIONALITY OF PARTICIPANTS

FIGURE 7: SOCIAL STATUS OF PARTICIPANTS. PROFESSION (LEFT), EDUCATION (CENTER), DEGREE (RIGHT)

FIGURE 8: GENDER INFLUENCE ON MORAL DISENGAGEMENT

FIGURE 9: DISENGAGEMENT VALUES FOR AGE GROUPS

FIGURE 10: CORRELATION OF AGE AND MORAL DISENGAGEMENT

FIGURE 11: EDUCATION

FIGURE 12: PROFESSION

FIGURE 13: EXP. 1, MORAL DISENGAGEMENT

FIGURE 14: EXPERIMENT 2, MORAL DISENGAGEMENT

FIGURE 15: COMPARISON OF EXPERIMENT

FIGURE 16: MORAL JUSTIFICATION

FIGURE 17: EUPHEMISTIC LANGUAGE

FIGURE 18: ADVANTAGEOUS COMPARISON

FIGURE 19: DIFFUSION OF RESPONSIBILITY

FIGURE 20: DISPLACEMENT OF RESPONSIBILITY

FIGURE 21: DISTORTING CONSEQUENCES

FIGURE 22: DEHUMANIZATION

FIGURE 23: ATTRIBUTION OF BLAME

FIGURE 24: COMBINING ALL STATEMENTS OF THE MORAL DISENGAGEMENT TEST

FIGURE 25: RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS SUMMARIZED

FIGURE 26: EXAMPLES OF ANALYSIS OF DATA DISTRIBUTION OBTAINED USING SOFA STATISTICS SOFTWARE

TABLE 1: MORAL DEVELOPMENT

TABLE 2: ETHICAL TESTS COMPARED AND RATED

TABLE 3: CORRELATION OF CONSTRUCTS OF THE 32-STATEMENTS MDS (VALIDITY)

TABLE 4: P-VALUES FOR FIGURE 21 (ANOVA)

1 INTRODUCTION

Not only criminals but also citizens who are not habitually in conflict with the law exhibit dishonesty, or engage in actions harmful to their fellow citizens (Gabor 1994). Most members of society are aware of the rules that govern the truthfulness of our actions, namely morale and ethics; however, studies indicate that many engage in dishonest behaviour frequently and show for example that everybody lies on a daily basis (DePaulo BM 1996). A staggering 66% of high-school students in the USA for example report to have cheated in exams (Bernardi, Metzger et al. 2004).

A recent example of academic fraud is offered by Germany’s defence minister, Karl- Theodor zu Guttenberg, who has plagiarised large passages of his doctoral thesis (BBC.co.uk 2011). As a consequence the thesis was retracted by the awarding university, the minister has to resign, and the political scandal has triggered debates about the state of moral behaviour of individuals serving in public office in Germany (Warner 2011).

Ethics and morale are of fundamental importance in business and economics, and unethical behaviour stands for great financial damage. Tax avoidance and tax evasion for instance may have caused a damage of 345 billion USD in 2007 in the USA alone (Kaufman 2007). Accountants describe tax evasion as morally questionable less frequently the lower their actual knowledge on the system of taxation is (Eriksen and Fallan 1996). Intellectual property theft worldwide has cost the US industry alone more than 250 billion USD in 2004 (Nina, Dan et al. 2010). “Wardrobing”, i.e. the short-term use and return of recently bought clothing for refund, costs the retail industry approximately 16 billion USD, and as many as 9% of all returns are thought to be fraudulent (Hilinski 2005).

Acceptance of fraud and deception is apparently widespread, as demonstrated by the fact that 10% of US Americans stated in a recent survey, that it was acceptable to hand in fraudulent insurance claims, for example when reporting goods as damaged or stolen when they were not. In the same study, 25% of US Americans even agreed that overstating an insurance claim was acceptable (Accenture 2003).

How can dishonest behaviour be curbed? As the Internal Revenue Service (tax office of the USA) noted for instance, performing more audits did not result in more taxes paid (Herman 2005). If more control is not the answer, the question remains, which measures, techniques and strategies can be used to address, the problem of fraud and deception in the business arena? Certainly, any measure that does improve moral behaviour will improve the economic bottom line of any business fallen victim.

This thesis reviews the possibilities of altering moral behaviour. In doing so it investigates dishonesty in the business arena and evaluates what is known about the underlying reasons for deception, the psychological and sociological mechanisms accompanying this behaviour, and the tools that can be applied to contain deceit. Based on surveys, this study investigates the effect of formally agreed upon rules, such as an Ethical Code of Conduct, on individuals’ moral values.

In brief: This thesis investigates if honour codes are effective in improving morality.

1.1 BACKGROUND

1.1.1 The origin of deception

The terms morale and ethics include a wide variety of different actions. Commonly lying, cheating and stealing are defined as unethical behaviour (Trevino Linda, Weaver Gary et al. 2006). More generally speaking, deception of any kind is thought of as unethical, while behaviours such as honesty, obeying the law, and whistle-blowing are conform with ethical standards (Jones 1991).

Deception and the capacity to detect deceit are products of animal and human evolution (Buchanan 2006). While the way we are dealing with deception certainly is a product of our social evolution the psychological capabilities involved enabling us to lie and cheat have developed in our biology and are hardwired (Leighton 1906). Deceit and detection thereof is a universal human trait (Bond, Omar et al. 1990).

A scenario of deception in the animal kingdom could for instance be a signal warning of a predator when in fact no predator is present. After all animals have fled the scene the deceiver may have a resource such as feed for itself. Deception is thereby defined as a signalling act that in the broadest sense can be any exchange between two or more individuals (Buchanan 2006).

If this exchange manifests as an exchange of goods, a financial, social or material gain can manifest on the expense of the deceived. The origins of deceit may have been simple survival mechanisms that ensure that the more pushy ones, the more egoistic individuals, would survive more easily (Leutenegger 1987).

1.1.2 Definition of Ethics and morale

Human society has come up with definitions for dishonesty and developed coping strategies for dealing with deception (Bond, Omar et al. 1990). However, these definitions are far from fixed, but rather vary in different societies and may change over time (Jones 1991).

In some instances deception may be punished and sanctioned, in others it may be a generally accepted occurrence or even be encouraged. For instance, law-enforcement may employ deception and use misrepresentation as a tool in a number of areas, such as setting up sting operations to catch corrupt officials, placing informants in various undercover situations, and falsifying documents in witness relocation plans (Shine 1989).

The example demonstrates that the line between deception and socially accepted behaviour is at times vague at best. The attempt of defining this line is the function of ethics and the study of morale. Some fields of study distinguish between ethics as being of a more universal relevance and morale as being applicable for a distinguished social group (Wiktionary 2011).

In this thesis the terms ethics and morale are used interchangeably for “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession” (Dictionary 2011).

1.1.3 The self in the regulation of behaviour

The concept of the psychological self, self-consciousness or the self-concept, i.e. the way people view and perceive themselves, is a prerequisite in understanding the motivational- and other forces that move the individual to either behave ethical or unethical (Mazar, Amir et al. 2008).

Identity is viewed as something possessing hierarchies, networks or spaces, including personal characteristics’, feelings, roles and social status (Burke 1980). The selfconcept explains the reflections and interpretations of on-going behaviour the self performs on its identity.

The self-concept is today being viewed as dynamic and adjustable in its response to challenges from the social environment (Markus and Wurf 1987). The self-concept consists of self-representations, i.e. ways in which the self presents itself to the outer world. Some self-representations may be based on the actual self or images of the self, as it would like to appear (Stryker 2007).

The concepts can be at odds with each other, in so-called self-discrepancy (Higgins 1987). Not all self-representations are subject to conscious reflection, but if they are, they are called self-conceptions (Markus and Wurf 1987). Self-representations may be actively repressed or altered, for example to substitute a sad mood with a happy memory (Josephson, Singer et al. 1996).

Apparently there are two viewpoints in the relationship between the individual and its social surrounding. From the social perspective of the surrounding the individual has internalized social roles through which it interacts with others, which is denominated identity theory (Stryker 2007; Wikipedia 2011).

From the psychological point of view, the individual has inherited traits, which are rather stable, individual and shape a person’s disposition and behaviour, and is called personality theory (Wikipedia 2011). Naturally, the social and the psychological perspectives of the self have large overlaps (Stryker 2007).

In the interaction with its surrounding the individual seeks to control certain behaviours, which is known as self-regulation (Markus and Wurf 1987). Self-regulation does occur also in-group contexts’ when individuals aim at regulating their behaviour in accordance to their perceived social identity (Sassenberg and Woltin 2008).

The person’s believe in the ability, and the willingness to perform an activity contributing to self-regulation has been termed self-efficacy (Albert and Edwin 2009). Self-efficacy is being motivated or channelled by desires and needs, some of which may be the cause of dishonesty (Markus and Wurf 1987).

Understanding the above mentioned mechanisms and how to alter them is paramount in the control of ethical behaviour. Additionally, it may be helpful understanding how moral behaviour develops psychologically.

1.1.4 Stages of moral development

Moral development is a key component in the decision process on moral behaviour (Kohlberg 1984; Hunt 1992; Green and Weber 1997; Abdolmohammadi and Sultan

2002; Greenberg 2002; Bernardi, Metzger et al. 2004). Kohlberg's conventional level of moral development are a well accepted basis to describe the stages of such a development (Kohlberg 1984; Wikipedia 2011)(Table 1).

The stages describe the progression from a mostly egoistic and self-interested moral perspective, over the acceptance that social norms should be followed for an efficient social existence, to the realization of higher principles, such as ethical principles and social contracts (Kohlberg 1984).

The basic principles of this model apparently hold true for different cultures, although this circumstance is a matter of some debate (Boom, Wouters et al. 2007; Gibbs, Basinger et al. 2007).

A similar model, that in contrast to Kohlberg’s model does not concentrate as much on social development, but rather emphasizes infant

Table 1: Moral development development is Jean Piaget’s developmental stage

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: (Kohlberg 1984; Wikipedia 2011) theory (Carpendale 2000).

Some studies have provided evidence that the stages do correlate with actual behaviour. Employees who had attained Kohlberg's conventional level of moral development refrained from stealing money when they worked in an office that had an ethics program in place. Those on the other hand at the pre-conventional level of development and who worked at an office without an ethics program stole from their employers. Apparently the programs in place improved the moral development of the employees (Greenberg 2002).

Importantly, not only an ethical program in place is of importance but apparently also the personal development of the individuals who are expected to subordinate their egoistic interests to the common rules.

1.1.5 Social cognitive theory of morality

Apparently, even in comparable situations different individuals may take fundamentally different decisions in relation to ethical issues. Social cognitive theory attempts to explain the basis of these differences (Reynolds 2008). The postulate of social cognitive theory is that moral decision is based on the traits of the individual, external stimuli, and the ensuing interaction of the two factors (Bandura 1986).

In accordance to social cognitive theory the difference in moral behaviour derives from variation in attention to moral issues between individuals. The attention is influenced by the significance of the stimulus, how interesting the stimulus is, and the individual’s capacity to recognize and process the stimulus (Taylor 1991).

The basis for moral reasoning is moral judgment that derives from the questions “What is right and wrong?” and the concept of the self, as discussed above (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007). Ethical behaviour starts with a moral judgement based on the awareness of a moral issue, the intention to act morally, and finally the engagement in the appropriate behaviour (Kohlberg 1975).

The judgment of what is right and wrong is crucial for moral behaviour, and is influenced by two main factors, namely development of moral reasoning (Kohlberg 1984; Hunt 1992; Green and Weber 1997; Abdolmohammadi and Sultan 2002; Greenberg 2002; Bernardi, Metzger et al. 2004), and ethical predisposition, which is defined as a cognitive framework that builds the basis for moral decisions (Brady and Wheeler 1996). Moral judgment is a process that in principles happens every time anew a moral decision has to be taken (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007).

1.1.6 Influencing moral awareness using psychological priming

Some studies have suggested that these factors are subject to priming, i.e. the activation of specific connectional frameworks by subliminal suggestion (Higgins 1989). Priming can for example act by having subjects sort phrases, or unscramble sentences, that are enriched with suggestive terms, for instance words that are associated with the term “mean”.

By subconsciously directing attention towards the framework for judging actions as “mean” individuals can be influenced to judge vignettes as meaner than control subjects that have performed unscrambling tasks with no inbuilt bias (Skowronski John, Sedikides et al. 2010).

Other categories that have been addressed using priming are, racial categories (Devine 1989), gender stereotypes (McKenzie-Mohr and Zanna 1990), political advertisements (Shen 2004), anxiety (Robles, Smith et al. 1987), and violent crimes (James 1986), to name but a few examples of the wide array of possible applications.

1.1.7 Moral attentiveness, moral identity, and social consensus

Some authors distinguish moral awareness, that can be influenced by priming, from moral attentiveness, and define attentiveness as a more general sensitivity to moral topics that exists regardless of context (Jones 1991; Reynolds 2008).

Moral attentiveness can be associated with a more intuitive moral reaction while awareness implies deliberation. Perceptual aspects play a role in moral attentiveness, which let an individual react conditioned to information encountered, based on moral identity, and a reflective aspect which lets the individual examine and judge the experience (Reynolds 2008).

This is an intricate part of an individual’s moral identity which deals with moral aspects of one’s self (Bergman 2002). The moral identity acts as a motivator to behave in accordance to moral sets of rules that an individual has come to accept as basis for his own behaviour (Bornstein 1999; Narvaez and Lapsley 2009).

“Social consensus indicates the extend to which there is a general concurrence within society about the moral status of the issue” (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007). Reynolds and others have argued that a high social consensus reduces the need for moral judgment by an individual, so that the behaviour of the individual is going to be influenced by his moral identity but not the moral judgment (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007).

1.1.8 Psychological dissonance and self-deception

Generally people strive to behave morally, even if they fail frequently (Aquino and Reed 2002). If their self-concept of being a moral individual is at odds with their immoral behaviour individuals may resort to self-deception in order to resolve the discrepancy (Trivers 2000) or disengage from their moral identity or their moral convictions (Bandura, Barbaranelli et al. 1996).

Self-deception is a common psychological strategy in aligning believes with reality. For example, people frequently maintain believes about themselves that are not in accordance with reality. More than 50% of people believe for instance that they are more intelligent than the average, a view that clearly violates logic (Alicke, Klotz et al. 1995). In order to align the internal self-concept with the outer reality people resort to self-deception to reduce this so-called psychological dissonance (Elliot and Devine 1994).

Self-deception has been considered an important psychological factor in the decision in favour of unethical behaviour (Messick 2001; Tenbrunsel and Messick 2004). People also apply self-deception unconsciously to convince themselves of certain motives, hiding their true intention even to themselves (Anderson, Cohen et al. 2000; Dodson 2001). In this case of real self-deception there are no cues, such as increased pupil size, lip pressing and similar, to an observer to discern the dishonesty (Morris 2004).

1.1.9 Moral disengagement and immoral behaviour

As mentioned, another strategy of dealing with is cognitive dissonance is the process of emotionally distancing oneself from ones unethical behaviour, which has been termed “moral disengagement”.

Moral disengagement means the separation of moral reactions from inhumane conduct and the disabling of mechanisms of self-condemnation (Bandura, Barbaranelli et al. 1996). It has been suggested that as a result of dishonest behaviour a person may disengage even further from moral behaviour, forgetting moral rules, and leading to a downward spiral (Shu Lisa, Gino et al. 2011).

A facet of moral disengagement is a self-justification process (Bandura, Caprara et al. 2001). The uncertainty of information may be used as the basis for the justification of dishonesty. The act of lying may then be justified by the fact that the information available is not clear cut, or reliable (Schweitzer and Hsee 2002). This act of conscious self-deception differs from the previously mentioned self-deception in that the perpetrator is aware of the betrayal, but chooses to justify (White, Bandura et al. 2009).

An example that describes it well is the moral disengagement process that prison personnel must undergo in order to be able to carry out the death penalty on prisoners (Osofsky, Bandura et al. 2005).

An interesting example of self-deception can be found in a study by Shu et al. In the study students were given a chance to cheat in an exam after they had read a code of honour. The students were tested for their moral disengagement and also for how much information from the code they remembered. Interestingly, the students that had cheated remembered less of the code than the students that decided to be honest. The authors argue that this is “strategic forgetting” that prevents dissonance (Shu Lisa, Gino et al. 2011).

Figure 1: Strategies of moral disengagement

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Based on (Bandura 2002)

Bandura defines a number of strategies for moral disengagement that are also the basis for his test of moral-disengagement, which is described in more detail in the review chapter (Figure 1)(Bandura 2002).

Briefly, Bandura’s definitions of moral disengagement are (Bandura 2002):

- Moral justification: Portraying an act as socially worthy cause
- Euphemistic labelling: Sanitized language disguises immoral acts
- Advantageous comparison: Comparing immoral act against seemingly worse alternative
- Displacement of responsibility: Following the dictate of a higher authority
- Diffusion of responsibility: Division of labour as social diffusion
- Disregard of distortion of consequences: Argumentative minimisation of the actual harm caused
- Dehumanisation: Immoral acts against strangers or animals are psychological easier to carry out
- Attribution of blame: Portraying oneself as the victim of others or circumstances

Previous studies have shown that moral disengagement in boys is larger than in girls, and positively correlated with aggression, social competence, and in some cases delinquency, but unrelated with socioeconomic status or age (Bandura, Barbaranelli et al. 1996). In contrast, other studies have shown that the acceptance of moral disengagement is higher in males and increases with age (Obermann 2011).

Moral disengagement was chosen as a basis for the determination of the participating individuals’ moral thinking in this study as discussed in more detail below. The aspects age and gender in relation to ethical attitudes were subjects of investigation in order to shed more light on the discrepancies found between previous studies.

1.2 PROBLEM DISCUSSION

1.2.1 Reasons for dishonest behaviour in economic contexts

Honesty and deception are concepts of ethics and morale that are being investigated not only by moral philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists, but in a more applied arena in recent times by researchers from such fields as business studies (Ayres and Ghosh 1999; Chan, Fung et al. 2010).

However, already philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and economists such as Adam Smith have given the issue some though and have argued that behaving in line with moral expectations may merely be the result of a cost-benefit analysis, weighing desires against the costs of fulfilling them, an idea very much based on the concept of homo economicus (Smith and Cannan 1981; Nina, Dan et al. 2010).

The basic idea for this is, that people are only honest to the extent that a planned trade- off favours honesty (Hechter 1990). In accordance to this economic model ethical behaviour is for example influenced by external incentives, the bigger the reward that can be derived from being dishonest the greater the incentive for dishonest behaviour (Lewicki 1983).

Another model concentrates on internal reward, felt due to the following of social norms (Henrich, Boyd et al. 2009). There is evidence from game theory that people act not only in terms of selfish motives but also in accordance with considerations regarding social utility and the care for others’ as outcome (Ernst and Urs 2003; Fehr and Fischbacher 2004). In fact, brain-imaging studies have shown that people who followed moral conventions felt an intense reward. The intensity of the reward-feeling equalled that of other reward triggers, such as monetary gain (de Quervain Dominique, Fischbacher et al. 2004).

Interestingly, game theory also showed that people evaluate their counterparts’ situation when deciding to be dishonest or not. It has been demonstrated that people will be more prone to dishonesty in a game for personal gain, when their counterpart is wealthier than they themselves (Gneezy 2005).

Apparently these internal reward mechanisms vary between different cultures and are shaped by the economic characteristics of the societies people live in, in other words socialization is key for altruistic behaviour (Henrich, Boyd et al. 2009). Additionally to these economic and sociological factor that influence human honesty behaviour, also personality traits, situational factors, and other individual factors contribute to the decision for or against dishonesty (Lewicki 1983).

An example for a situational factor is the certainty of information. Studies have shown that uncertainty of information can be an inducing factor for dishonesty. For example, a manager may have an incentive to underreport the true dimension of costs for renovation of a house in sales negotiations, justifying the lie with the uncertainty of this information (Schweitzer and Hsee 2002).

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Details

Pages
60
Year
2011
ISBN (eBook)
9783656572916
ISBN (Book)
9783656572930
File size
1.4 MB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v267268
Institution / College
Blekinge Institute of Technology – MAM/Sektionen för Management
Grade
Passed with distinction (VG)
Tags
honour codes ethical conduct priming effects mere-exposure effect

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Title: Triggers of Acute Changes in Ethical Attitude