Discussion Post and Paper

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? Navigating Theories of Interpersonal and Ethical Cognitions to Understand Ethical Decision-Making

Lumina S. Albert • Scott J. Reynolds •

Bulent Turan

Received: 6 February 2014 / Accepted: 21 May 2014 / Published online: 14 June 2014 ! Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Abstract The literature on ethical decision-making is rooted in a cognitive perspective that emphasizes the role

of moral judgment. Recent research in interpersonal

dynamics, however, has suggested that ethics revolves around an individual’s perceptions and views of others. We

draw from both literatures to propose and empirically

examine a contingent model. We theorize that whether the individual relies on cognitions about the ethical issue or

perceptions of others depends on the level of social con-

sensus surrounding the issue. We test our hypotheses in three studies. Results suggest that not only does social

consensus determine whether an individual relies on ethical

cognitions about the issue or perceptions of others, but also that an individual’s view of self is an important moderator

in these relationships. We conclude by considering impli-

cations of this research for theory and practice.

Keywords Ethical judgment ! Interpersonal relationships ! Ethical decision-making ! Ethical behavior ! View of others ! View of self

Introduction

Corporate scandals, such as exaggerating revenue, paying

bribes, facilitating corrupt officials, and mishandling confi- dential business information, have generated world-wide

interest in unethical behavior (Treviño et al. 2006). Although

many entities, including the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Senate, have

exerted pressure on corporations to improve employee

behavior (Pulliam et al. 2010; Thiel et al. 2012), employees continue to report that they feel pressure to compromise

standards and are experiencing retaliation when they report

misconduct by managers or organizational representatives (National Business Ethics Survey 2011). Also troublesome

are recent national reports of misconduct by retail customers.

For instance, retailers estimated that holiday return fraud (in the form of return of stolen merchandise and fraudulent pur-

chases) cost them $3.4 billion (National Retail Survey 2013).

These events highlight the importance of understanding the determinants and dynamics of ethical decision-making across

both organizational (e.g., Butterfield et al. 2000) and con- sumer contexts (e.g., Vitell &Muncy 2005; Vitell et al. 2001).

Behavioral ethics researchers have studied direct rela-

tionships between ethical behavior and a variety of ante- cedent conditions. Some have focused on individual

differences in demographics, personality, and cognitive

ethical development (Treviño et al. 2006). However, a significant amount of the literature in both organizational

and marketing ethics assumes that decision makers follow

a cognitive and rational approach that revolves around moral judgments about the issue (e.g., Kohlberg 1981; Rest

1986; Reynolds 2006b; Vitell et al. 1991, 2001; Weber

1990). This substantial trend notwithstanding, some scholars have suggested that the cognitive approach fails to

fully explain ethical behavior, and have therefore either

L. S. Albert (&) College of Business, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1275, USA e-mail: [email protected]

S. J. Reynolds Foster School of Business, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA e-mail: [email protected]

B. Turan Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA e-mail: [email protected]

123

J Bus Ethics (2015) 130:467–484

DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2236-2

called for or suggested alternative approaches (e.g., Cohen

2010; Haidt 2001; Hannah et al. 2011; Reynolds 2006b; Vitell et al. 2013; Weaver et al. 2014). In this vein, several

researchers have argued that a central aspect of ethics is a

‘‘consideration of others’’ (e.g., Brass et al. 1998). These authors emphasize that interpersonal relationships play an

influential role in explaining individual ethical decision-

making (e.g., attachment theory: Albert and Horowitz 2009; social relationships: Bowler and Brass 2006; Brass

et al. 1998; interpersonal dominance: Son Hing et al. 2007). Indeed, research has indicated that one’s percep-

tions of others and intimacy of relationships with others

may be related positively to ethical behavior in specific relationships (e.g., Brass et al. 1998; Venkataramani and

Dalal 2007; Vetlesen 1994). Additionally, several scholars

have also demonstrated that a lack of consideration for others elicits unethical behavior, especially if these

behaviors help advance the self-interests of the decision-

maker (Duckitt 2001; Son Hing et al. 2007). Despite a significant amount of research indicating the

value of cognitive analyses and interpersonal constructs in

explaining ethical behavior, no research has considered these ideas concurrently. Accordingly, we argue that both

interpersonal and cognitive factors are critical yet contin-

gent factors in the individual ethical decision making process. Specifically, we propose that whether individuals

rely on cognitive judgments or interpersonal factors

depends on the level of social consensus regarding the moral issue—the degree of social agreement that the pro-

posed act is good or evil or right or wrong (Jones 1991).

Our results provide evidence that an integrated approach involving both interpersonal and cognitive principles is not

only justified, but also provides a much more comprehen-

sive explanation of ethical behavior. This research thus contributes to the literature by extending our understanding

of the cognitive and interpersonal aspects of ethical deci-

sion-making and by highlighting how the nature of the moral issue can shape individual responses to ethical

situations.

Two Approaches to Ethical Behavior

The Cognitive Approach

Philosophers have studied ethical behavior for centuries, and most have framed it as a cognitive exercise (Honderich

1995). This long-standing tradition is reflected in the ear-

liest and most widely-regarded theories explaining the psychology of ethics (Hunt and Vitell 1986; Rest 1986).

For example, Rest’s (1986) four-component model claims

that ethical decision making first begins with ethical awareness, an acknowledgment that the issue contains

ethical content. Once this recognition has been made, the

individual then makes a judgment about the issue at hand, establishes an intention to behave ethically, and finally

engages in ethical behavior.

Ethical judgment, considered by many to be the most critical element in the ethical decision making process

(Kohlberg 1981), has been researched quite thoroughly

(Goolsby and Hunt 1992; Greenberg 2002; Hunt and Vitell 1986; Hunt 1993; Vitell et al. 2001). Two of the most

foundational constructs of the ethical judgment literature are consequentialism and formalism (Brady and Wheeler

1996). Per Reynolds (2006a), consequentialism is teleo-

logical or ends-based ethical decision making. It empha- sizes the ‘‘end’’ or the outcome of an act and contends that

the ethical act is that which optimizes or creates the

greatest good or benefit. In contrast, formalism represents deontological or obligation-based approaches to ethical

decision making. It emphasizes the ‘‘means’’—normative

patterns of behavior and other formal standards as deter- minants of what is ethical (Brady and Wheeler 1996;

Honderich 1995; Hunt and Vitell 1986; Hunt 1993).

Together these two constructs capture the most funda- mental of concerns in ethical decision-making, and as a

result, they have been used in numerous settings to explain

a variety of ethical phenomena ranging from perceptions of justice (Schminke et al. 1997), consumer ethical decisions

(Vitell et al. 2001) and moral awareness (Reynolds 2006a)

to ethical behaviors such as honesty and cheating (Brady and Wheeler 1996; Reynolds and Ceranic 2007). While

consequentialism and formalism explain a great deal about

ethical decision-making, several scholars have suggested that an interpersonal approach also has much to add.

An Interpersonal Approach

Research has established that individuals have generalized stances toward relationships and ‘‘others’’ that are often

spontaneous and unacknowledged (Pietromonaco and

Barrett 2000). As Kahn and Kram (1994) suggest, these stances are internalized models developed in childhood that

individuals typically carry into adulthood, and which

influence behaviors across interpersonal situations. According to Bowlby (1969, 1973), individuals develop

these internalized working models based on repeated

interactions with early significant figures that subsequently serve as cognitive maps for navigating relationships

throughout one’s lifespan. Bowlby posited that these

working models are comprised of two complementary yet distinct cognitive dimensions: a generalized ‘‘view of

others’’ and an internalized ‘‘view of self’’ (Albert and

Horowitz 2009; Bartholomew and Horowitz 1991; Dizen and Berenbaum 2011; Kobak and Sceery 1988). While

468 L. S. Albert et al.

123

one’s view of others is formed based on expectations about

the availability and responsiveness of the attachment fig- ure, one’s model of self reflects stabilized beliefs about the

acceptability and worth of the self. These working models

are thought to be malleable during early development but once consolidated; they stabilize and influence one’s

behaviors through one’s lifetime (e.g., Kobak and Sceery

1988; Sroufe and Waters 1977). As ethical behaviors often occur in social contexts

characterized by interpersonal dynamics (Albert and Horowitz 2009; Brass et al. 1998; Son Hing et al. 2007), it

seems clear that these working models inform and shape

these behaviors. In fact, research in psychology has established that an individual’s perception of others is one

of the most important determinants of warm and agreeable

behavior (Albert and Moskowitz 2014; Dizen and Beren- baum 2011; Locke 2009; Mayer et al. 1995; Moskowitz

2010; Wood et al. 2010). Interpersonal theorists assert that

social perceptions will influence how individuals behave in social situations (Albert and Moskowitz 2014; Horowitz

et al. 1997; Kiesler 1996; Moskowitz 2010). Individuals

who have a tendency to perceive others as hostile, quar- relsome and unfair prepare to respond in hostile, unfair and

threatening ways themselves (e.g., Albert and Moskowitz

2014; Dodge and Crick 1990; Raine 2008). Likewise, individuals who perceive others as friendly, compassionate,

agreeable and caring, respond with complementary positive

behaviors (Graziano et al. 2007; Graziano and Tobin 2002).

Baldwin (1992, 1995) suggested that an individual’s

views of others work in combination with his/her view of self to determine how the individual interprets and

responds to interpersonal information, and that these con-

clusions then guide their behavior. Therefore, we suggest that an interpersonal approach encompassing views of

others (and of the self) is not only justified, but also will

provide unique and valuable information on the interper- sonal dynamics of ethical behavior. In the following sec-

tion, we theorize about how these factors act directly and in

combination with ethical judgments to shape ethical deci- sion-making. In short, we suggest that the effects of these

factors depend on the level of social consensus regarding

the issue being considered (Jones 1991).

An Integrated Model Based on Social Consensus

Jones (1991) developed an issue-contingent model of eth-

ical decision-making in which he proposed that issues vary in their moral intensity (the extent to which the issue

involves moral content). According to Jones, moral inten-

sity is comprised of six characteristics: magnitude of harm, temporal immediacy, probability of effects, concentration

of effects, proximity, and social consensus. Social con-

sensus is ‘‘the degree of social agreement that a proposed act is evil (or good)’’ (Jones 1991, p. 375); it ‘‘indicates the

extent to which there is a general concurrence within

society about the moral status of the issue’’ (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007, p. 1611). Subsequent research has empiri-

cally demonstrated that social consensus is one of the most

important factors in determining an issue’s moral intensity (Frey 2000).

When social consensus is high, a clear and shared understanding of what constitutes ethical behavior is

apparent. We suggest that under such situations, the

individual does not need to rely on personal judgments of ethicality (i.e., consequentialistic and formalistic

analyses of the issue) to determine what is moral.

Instead, the widely-accepted social standard regarding the issue (i.e., social consensus) spontaneously informs

the individual regarding the ethical nature of the issue

(e.g., ‘‘charitable behavior is good behavior’’). High social consensus does not, however, guarantee that the

individual will be motivated to perform that ethical

action. The individual must be motivated to act upon that social consensus. Scholars have suggested that

individuals are motivated to engage in behaviors such as

making donations to charity, recycling bottles or donat- ing food, because of their favorable views and feelings

about others (Silk 2006). As mentioned, interpersonal

research has established that an individual’s perception of others is one of the most important determinants of

social behavior (Albert and Moskowitz 2014; Dizen and

Berenbaum 2011; Horowitz et al. 1997; Locke 2009). Therefore, we expect that behavior in situations of high

social consensus will depend on the individual’s view of

others. If the individual perceives others positively, then the individual is likely to respond with complementary

positive behaviors. Most importantly, such individuals

would have motivations to operate in a manner consis- tent with larger social expectations expressed in the

social consensus factor. Thus, we propose the following:

Hypothesis 1a When social consensus regarding the ethical issue is high, one’s view of others will positively

influence ethical behavior.

The literature on interpersonal relationships argues that

not only is the individual’s view of others important in

predicting interpersonal behavior, but also that the individ- ual’s view of self affects behavior. The literature on self-

views and ethical behavior, however, reveals inconsistent

findings regarding their relationship. Conventional wisdom regards low self-esteem as an important cause of violence

and unethical behavior (e.g., Long 1990; Oates and Forrest

1985; Wiehe 1991), but a substantial body of research demonstrates that high self-esteem is closely associated with

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 469

123

violence and unethical behavior (e.g., Baumeister et al.

1996; Bradshaw and Hazan 2006). Indeed, Baumeister et al. (1996) argued that the typical self-defining statements of

perpetrators of violence and other harmful acts indicated

expressions of superiority and capability. These inconsis- tencies indicate that the relationship between view of self

and ethical behavior is not as simple and linear as previously

theorized. Thus, we do not necessarily expect view of self to have a direct effect on ethical behavior. Nevertheless, a

favorable self-image implies self-confidence to hold firmly and unwaveringly to one’s beliefs and values. Individuals

with high self-views have been consistently shown to have a

greater capacity for self-regulation, persistence in their beliefs and expressing behavior that is consistent with their

personal convictions than individuals with low self-esteem

(e.g., Crocker and Major 1989; Leary and Tangney 2003; McFarlin et al. 1984). This favorable self-view should also

reinforce the individual’s ability to engage in behaviors that

are consistent with his or her interpersonal convictions. Thus, we propose a moderating effect such that the more

favorable the individual’s view of self, the stronger the

relationship between the individual’s view of others and ethical behavior.

Hypothesis 1b When social consensus regarding the ethical issue is high, view of self will moderate the rela- tionship between view of others and ethical behavior such

that a favorable self-image will enhance the positive rela-

tionship between view of others and ethical behavior.

Of course, social consensus is not always high. By defi-

nition, when social consensus is low, widespread disagree- ment about the ethical course of action exists and therefore

the ethical status of the behavior is not obvious. In these kinds

of situations, often referred to as ethical dilemmas (Weber 1990), the individual cannot rely on a widely-held opinion

about the matter. Instead, the individual must generate his or

her own cognitive conclusions to arrive at a moral decision. In other words, the individual is more inclined, perhaps even

required, to rely on his or her consequentialistic and/or for-

malistic analyses about the ethical issue. Thus, we argue that when social consensus regarding an issue is low, conse-

quentialism and formalism will exert direct main effects on

ethical behavior and that view of others will have no sig- nificant impact on ethical behavior. Specifically, we expect

that when social consensus is low, consequentialism will be

associated with outcome-oriented behaviors: behaviors that most effectively generate positive outcomes for those

involved, even if those behaviors violate well-established

rules of conduct. In contrast, we expect that when social consensus is low, formalism will be most closely associated

with means-based behaviors: behaviors that demonstrate

adherence with moral rules, values and forms of ethical conduct, even if the actions do not involve positive outcomes

for those involved or if those behaviors generate generally or

personally negative outcomes. These arguments are sum- marized as follows:

Hypothesis 2a When social consensus regarding the ethical issue is low, consequentialism will be positively

associated with more outcome-oriented ethical behaviors.

Hypothesis 2b When social consensus regarding the ethical issue is low, formalism will be positively associated

with more means-based ethical behaviors.

Though we have argued that view of others will not have

an effect on ethical behavior when social consensus is low,

theory and empirical evidence suggest that an individual’s view of self still plays an important role in this process.

Previous research has documented that individuals often

fail to see an ethical judgment through to ethical behavior (Reynolds and Ceranic 2007), but a favorable self-image

implies self-confidence to hold on firmly to ethical judg-

ments even in the face of external resistance. Thus, we suggest that as an individual’s view of self becomes more

positive, the likelihood that he/she will engage in behavior

consistent with his or her ethical judgment will also increase. These arguments are summarized below, and all

of our hypotheses are illustrated in Figs. 1 and 2:

Hypothesis 2c When social consensus regarding the ethical behavior is low, view of self will moderate the

relationship between consequentialism and ethical behav- ior such that a favorable self image will enhance the

positive relationship between consequentialism and out-

come-oriented ethical behavior.

Consequentialism

Formalism

View of Others

View of Self

Ethical Behavior

Fig. 1 The influence of cognitive and interpersonal factors on ethical behavior when social consensus is high

470 L. S. Albert et al.

123

Hypothesis 2d When social consensus regarding the ethical behavior is low, view of self will moderate the

relationship between formalism and ethical behavior such that a favorable self-image will enhance the positive rela-

tionship between formalism and means-based ethical behavior.

In the following section, we report three studies that

tested these hypotheses. In the first study, we used multiple measures of ethical behavior to repeatedly explore the

effects of social consensus, view of others, view of self,

consequentialism, and formalism on ethical behavior. In the second study, we extended the generalizability of these

results by testing our hypotheses with a consumer measure

of ethical behavior and a different sample. In the third study, we used a within-subjects design to test these

effects.

Study 1: Method

Sample and Procedure

The sample for the study consisted of 430 individuals holding managerial positions in different organizations on

the West Coast of the United States. The participants

were recruited from an email list of individuals interested in receiving online survey announcements maintained by

the work-life office and the school of business of a large

university. With the help of list administrators, we sent a

recruitment email to the group of managers inviting them

to participate anonymously. After participants confirmed their interest in participating, they received the self-

administered questionnaire package in the mail. Of the

430 employees who received the package, 383 completed and returned the questionnaires. Of these, 26 question-

naires were excluded from the analyses due to significant

levels of incomplete data or unclear responses. Of the 357 participants in the final sample (83 %), 160 were women

and 197 were men. Sixty two percent (221) indicated that they were Caucasian, 15 % (54) indicated that they were

Asian, 10 % (36) indicated they were African-American,

and 13 % (46) indicated other ethnicities. Most of the respondents (56 %) were between 31 and 50 years old,

33 % were younger than 30 years old and 11 % were

more than 50 years old. Each of the participants received a $5 gift certificate from a retailer for participating in the

study.

Measures

Ethical Behaviors of High and Low Social Consensus

In their review, Treviño et al. (2006) recognized that the

literature has conceptualized ethical behavior in multiple ways. Generally speaking, some measures of ethical

behavior focus on the individual’s meeting or failing to

meet minimal ethical standards (e.g., stealing, being hon- est), whereas others have focused on behaviors that exceed

ethical minimums (e.g., charitable giving). In an effort to

capture this variance of social consensus and to provide the most rigorous tests of our hypotheses, we utilized five

distinct measures of ethical behavior.

To begin, we focused on charitable giving as a measure of ethical behavior high in social consensus (Reynolds and

Ceranic 2007). We measured charitable giving with three

items. Participants responded on a four-point scale (1 = never, 4 = many times) to indicate how often they

had volunteered for a good cause (homeless shelters),

donated non-money items (clothes, food, etc.), and donated money to a charity. The reliability for the three items was

.84.

As a second measure of ethical behavior high in social consensus, we utilized a segment of Newstrom and Ruch’s

(1975) scale of workplace behaviors. The widely-used

measure (e.g., Ferrell and Weaver 1978; Kidwell et al. 1987; Peterson 2002; Treviño et al. 1998; Weaver and

Treviño 1999) asks respondents to indicate on a Likert type

scale (1 = never, 7 = frequently) the extent to which they have engaged in 17 different behaviors. Previous research

has consistently demonstrated that four of these items load

on a factor representing behaviors perceived to be overt unethical behaviors (high social consensus) in which

Consequentialism

Formalism

View of Others

View of Self

Ethical Behavior

Fig. 2 The influence of cognitive and interpersonal factors on ethical behavior when social consensus is low When social consensus is low, what constitutes ethical behavior is unclear. In this case, we are arguing that when social consensus is low, consequentialism will be associated with more outcome-oriented forms of ethical behavior and formalism will be associated with more means-based forms of ethical behavior

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 471

123

managers are least likely to engage (Ferrell and Weaver

1978; George et al. 1999; McCabe et al. 2006). These four behaviors are: (a) Passing blame for errors to an innocent

co-worker, (b) Claiming credit for someone else’s work,

(c) Falsifying time/quality/quantity reports, (d) Padding an expense account of more than 10 %. To confirm the

reported findings, we conducted principal component

analysis with varimax rotation. Our analysis revealed two distinct factors: the first consisted of the four items men-

tioned above (eigenvalue = 2.60, 15.29 % of the variance; a = .82) and the second consisted of the remaining thirteen items (eigenvalue = 8.66, 50.95 % of the variance;

a = .95). We used the four behaviors to measure unethical behaviors of high social consensus.

As final measures of high social consensus ethical

behaviors, we developed two vignettes. The vignettes described a decision-making situation related to an ethical

issue and were listed with a series of other business-related

vignettes. The first focused on a situation of claiming credit for a colleague’s work and the second focused on

illegal bribery. For each vignette, four alternative respon-

ses were provided that ranged from what was determined to be the most unethical to the most ethical choice. The

single-response format reduced competing preferences to a

single scalable behavior. We recognize that vignettes such as these elicit intentions to behave and are less desirable

than direct measures of behavior. Nevertheless, as Weber

(1990) has noted, vignettes provide a valuable complement to more direct behavioral measures. We computed the

mean value of the responses to the two vignettes (a = .72), and utilized this measure to provide a more complete test of our hypotheses.

We employed two measures of ethical behavior low in

social consensus. The first was comprised of the 13 remaining items from Newstrom and Ruch’s (1975) scale.

These 13 items reflected less egregious workplace behav-

iors such as ‘‘Calling in sick to take a day off’’ and ‘‘Using company services for personal needs’’. In each case, the

items describe behaviors that involve achieving personal

short-term gain while violating both formal and informal rules of conduct. Thus, we considered Newstrom and

Ruch’s measures of unethical (and ethical) behavior to be

proxy measures of outcome-oriented (and means-based) behaviors. While we recognize that alternative conse-

quentialistic (and formalistic) analyses could lead to

opposite conclusions, we consider such interpretations to be far less common and therefore inferior representations

of these constructs.

As a second measure of an ethical behavior low in social consensus, we included a vignette developed by Reynolds

and Ceranic (2007), patterned after vignettes used in prior

research on consequentialism and formalism (e.g., Brady

and Wheeler 1996; Fritzsche and Becker 1984). It involved

a situation where the manager faces an ethical dilemma regarding giving an intern a day off, and had four alter-

native responses that represented a continuum of behaviors

ranging from a highly outcome-oriented option to a highly means-based option. The presentation of the dependent

variable measures was randomized.

To test the validity of our claims about the social con- sensus levels of these dependent variables, we used a

separate sample of 103 managers working in the informa- tion technology industry (age: M = 45, SD = 10.5; tenure:

M = 11 years, SD = 10.5, 43 % male). They were pre-

sented the three charitable behaviors, the behaviors from Newstrom and Ruch’s (1975) scale, and the three vignettes

described earlier. Items asked to what extent they believed

that managers agreed that the behaviors were ethically good or bad. Responses were recorded on a five point scale

ranging from 1 (‘‘There is a great deal of disagreement’’) to

5 (‘‘There is a great deal of agreement’’). Results indicated that the managers endorsed charitable giving as a behavior

high in social consensus (M = 4.74, SD = .66). The four

items from Newstrom and Ruch (1975) (M = 4.73, SD = .63) and the vignettes representing illegal bribery

(M = 4.73, SD = .70) and claiming credit for a col-

league’s work (M = 4.71, SD = .71) were also perceived by the managers as behaviors with high social consensus.

Paired sample t-tests revealed that the respondents believed

that the remaining thirteen items (M = 3.55, SD = .67) were perceived as having a significantly lower level of

social consensus than charitable giving, t (102) = 15.06,

p\ .01. The Cohen’s d (1.76) and the effect size correla- tion (r = .67) indicated a large effect. The tests also

revealed that respondents perceived the four items as

having higher social consensus than the other 13 items, t (102) = 16, p\ .01. The effect size of this difference was large (d = 1.82, r = .67). Finally, participants per-

ceived the vignette describing the situation with the intern (M = 3.66, SD = 1.26) as having a significantly lower

level of social consensus than charitable giving,

t (102) = 8.43, p\ .01 (d = .94; r = .43). These results supported our claims about the levels of social consensus

surrounding the six measures.

View of Self

As a measure of view of self, we used Rosenberg’s Self- Esteem (RSE) scale (Rosenberg 1965). Participants rated

the self-descriptiveness of ten statements (e.g., ‘‘I take a

positive attitude toward myself’’) on a four point scale (1 = not at all descriptive, 4 = very descriptive). The

reliability alpha for this measure (a = .88) was consistent with previous research (Robbins et al. 2001).

472 L. S. Albert et al.

123

View of Others

As a measure of view of others, we used a modified version of the schema assessment of typicality (Burks

et al. 1999). This measure consists of nine pairs of cor-

responding positive (e.g., approachable) and negative (e.g., cold) terms. Participants indicated which term best

described their perceptions of others (in general). The

mean number of positive characteristics was computed, and a higher score indicated a more positive view of

others (a = .92).

Consequentialism and Formalism

We used the character traits section of the Measure of Ethical Viewpoints (Brady and Wheeler 1996) to measure

the extent to which respondents generally preferred con-

sequentialistic or formalistic forms of ethical judgments. This instrument is based on the assertion that ethical pre-

dispositions are associated with particular character traits

and that individuals consider certain character traits to be important based on their ethical predispositions. The

instrument lists character traits that respondents rate on a

7-point scale (1 = not important to me, 7 = very impor- tant to me). Consequentialism was measured using

seven items (‘‘innovative,’’ ‘‘resourceful,’’ ‘‘effective,’’

‘‘influential,’’ ‘‘results oriented,’’ ‘‘productive’’ and ‘‘being a winner’’) and formalism was measured using six

(‘‘principled,’’ ‘‘dependable,’’ ‘‘trustworthy,’’ ‘‘honest,’’

‘‘noted for integrity’’ and ‘‘law-abiding’’). The reliability alphas for the measures were .87 for consequentialism and

.88 for formalism. These results are consistent with pre-

vious research (Reynolds 2006a; Reynolds and Ceranic 2007; Schminke et al. 1997).

Control Variable

Even though we solicited anonymous responses, we rec- ognized that social desirability bias could influence the

participants’ responses. Therefore, we included the Bal-

anced Inventory of Desirable Responding (Paulhus 1984, 1998) as a control for social desirability bias in our anal-

yses. The BIDR measures two constructs: self-deceptive

positivity and impression management. Each of these constructs was measured by 20 items stated as proposi-

tions, the responses to which were summed to yield an

overall measure of social desirability. Respondents rated their agreement with each statement on a seven-point scale

and one point was added for each extreme response (6 or 7)

(Paulhus 1998).

Study 1: Results

Means, standard deviations, and correlations of the vari-

ables are presented in Table 1. To test each hypothesis, we followed the procedures recommended by Aiken and West

(1991). We mean centered the independent variables and

created separate sets of regression models for each of the dependent variables (Aiken and West 1991). In each

model, the main and interaction effects of the independent

variables were investigated. Table 2 indicates that the inclusion of the interpersonal

variables significantly improved the regression model for

charitable behavior (DR2 = .08, p = .00). Participants’ views of others positively influenced charitable giving

behavior, b = .13, t (353) = 5.73, p = .00, and view of self did not significantly predict charitable behavior, b = .01, t (353) = .11, p = .92. When the ethical judg- ment variables were entered into the model, the change in

Table 1 Study 1: Means, standard deviations, and correlation matrix of research variables

Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

1. View of others 4.71 2.30

2. View of self 2.86 .85 .20**

3. Formalism 4.23 1.67 .07 .10

4. Consequentialism 4.11 1.66 -.02 .08 .11*

5. Social desirability 16.42 8.40 .22** .09 .10 .07

6. Charitable behavior 2.74 .97 .34** .13* .02 -.04 .26**

7. High consensus work behaviors 4.05 1.71 -.35** -.05 -.03 -.01 -.16** -.34**

8. High consensus vignettes 2.66 .94 -.52** -.10 -.05 .01 -.36** -.47** .40**

9. Low consensus work behaviors 4.18 1.69 -.04 .09 -.35** .41** .00 -.05 .07 -.01

10. Low consensus vignette (intern) 2.70 .96 .01 -.02 -.31** .30** .05 -.05 .07 .02 .43**

N = 357

* p\ .05, two-tailed ** p\ .01, two-tailed

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 473

123

R2 was not significant. These results support our arguments in Hypothesis 1a that when social consensus regarding an

ethical issue is high, an individual’s view of others will

positively motivate one’s ethical behavior above and beyond the main effects of one’s view of self and ethical

judgments.

When the interaction terms were examined, the only factor that was significant was the interaction between

view of others and view of self (DR2 = .09, p = .00). Simple slope analyses (Aiken and West 1991) revealed that when view of self was high, view of others positively

and significantly influenced charitable giving; B = .24,

t = 9.44, p = .00 (See Fig. 3). However, when view of self was low, the relationship was not significant; B = -

.02, t = -.67, p = .50. These results support our

arguments in Hypothesis 1b that when social consensus

regarding a moral issue is high, view of self will moderate the positive effect of view of others on ethical behavior.

Charitable giving behavior was strongest for those indi-

viduals who had high views of others as well as of themselves, probably because a favorable self-view

enabled them to hold strongly to their positive convictions

regarding others, consequently leading to higher levels of charitable behaviors than those with less favorable views

of themselves. With regards to Newstrom and Ruch’s (1975) unethical

behaviors of high social consensus, the predictive power of

the model was enhanced when the interpersonal variables were introduced into the model (DR2 = .11, p = .00); view of others influenced ethical behavior in the expected

direction b = -.26, t (353) = -6.65, p = .00. The remaining three independent variables: view of self, con-

sequentialism and formalism did not influence behavior

(see Table 3). This validated our assertion in Hypothesis 1a. Among the interaction variables, the interaction effects of

view of self and view of others again significantly improved

the overall regression model (DR2 = .05, p = .00). The interaction pattern demonstrated that a favorable view of

self enhanced the negative relationship between view of

others and unethical behavior. Simple slope analysis revealed that when view of self was high there was a sig-

nificant negative relationship between view of others and

ethical behavior, B = -.40, t = -8.60, p = .00. When view of self was low, the effect of view of others on ethical

behavior was not significant, B = -.07, t = -1.16,

Table 2 Study 1: The effects of view of others, view of self, and ethical predispositions on charitable giving

Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

B B B B SE g92 95 % CI

Constant 2.74** 2.74** 2.74** 2.66** .05 .90 2.57, 2.75

Social desirability .03** .02** .02** .02** .01 .04 .01, .03

View of others .13** .12** .09** .02 .05 .05, .13

View of self .01 .01 .00 .06 .00 -.11, .12

Consequentialism -.03 -.05 .04 .00 -.12, .02

Formalism -.01 .02 .03 .00 -.05, .08

View of others 9 View of self .16** .03 .10 .11, .21

View of self 9 Consequentialism .06 .04 .01 -.02, .14

View of self 9 Formalism -.03 .04 .00 -.11, .05

R2 .07 .15 .16 .25

Adjusted R2 .07 .15 .14 .23

F 26.44** 21.25** 12.91** 14.24**

DR2 .07** .08** .00 .09**

DF 26.44** 17.43** .47 14.07**

N = 357 for all models. Unstandardized regression coefficients are shown

** p\ .01, one tailed

C ha

ri ta

bl e

G iv

in g

- View of Self +

View of Others +

View of Others -

3

1

Fig. 3 Study 1: The interaction of view of others and view of self on charitable giving behavior

474 L. S. Albert et al.

123

p = .24. These results mirror the results obtained when

charitable behavior was used as the dependent variable. Similar results were also obtained with regard to the

composite measure of the two vignettes measuring high

social consensus unethical behaviors, claiming credit for a colleague’s work and illegal bribery. As expected, view

of others influenced unethical behavior (DR2 = .20,

p = .00) (See Table 4) in the expected direction. View of

self and the two ethical judgment variables did not change the regression model. Finally, the interaction of

view of self and view of others significantly improved

the regression model (DR2 = .05, p = .00). All of these results support the arguments listed in Hypotheses 1a and

1b.

Table 3 Study 1: The effects of view of others, view of self, and ethical predispositions on high consensus work behaviors

Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

B B B B SE g92 95 % CI

Constant 4.05** 4.05** 4.05** 4.12** .09 .89 3.95, 4.29

Social desirability -.03** -.02** -.02** -.02** .01 .01 -.04, .01

View of others -.26** -.26** -.23** .04 .09 -.30, -.15

View of self .17 .17 .16 .11 .00 -.05, .37

Consequentialism -.02 .03 .06 .01 -.09, .16

Formalism .00 .02 .06 .00 -.10, .14

View of others 9 view of self -.19** .05 .05 -.28, -.10

View of self 9 consequentialism .04 .08 .00 -.11, .19

View of self 9 formalism .10 .07 .01 -.04, .25

R2 .03 .13 .14 .19

Adjusted R2 .02 .13 .12 .17

F 9.31** 18.23** 10.92** 9.93**

DR2 .03* .11** .00 .05**

DF 9.31 22.13** .10 7.31**

N = 357 for all models. Unstandardized regression coefficients are shown

** p\ .01, one tailed

Table 4 Study 1: The effects of view of others, view of self, and ethical predispositions on high consensus vignettes behaviors

Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

B B B B SE g92 95 % CI

Constant 2.67** 2.67** 2.67** 2.71** .04 .93 2.63, 2.79

Social desirability -.04** -.03** -.03** -.03** .01 .08 -.04, -.02

View of others -.19** -.19** -.17** .02 .19 -.21, -.13

View of self .03 .03 .03 .05 .00 -.07, .13

Consequentialism .01 .02 .03 .00 -.04, .08

Formalism .00 .01 .03 .00 -.05, .07

View of others 9 view of self -.11** .02 .07 -.15, -.07

View of self 9 consequentialism .02 .04 .01 -.06, .09

View of self 9 formalism .02 .04 .00 -.05, .08

R2 .13 .33 .33 .38

Adjusted R2 .13 .33 .32 .37

F 53.12** 58.62** 35.02** 26.69**

DR2 .13** .20** .00 .05**

DF 53.12** 53.52** .08 8.88**

N = 357 for all models. Unstandardized regression coefficients are shown

* p\ .05, one-tailed ** p\ .01, one tailed

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 475

123

With regards to work behaviors low in social consensus,

view of self and view of others did not influence ethical behavior (See Table 5). As expected, both consequential-

ism and formalism significantly improved the predictive

power of the model (DR2 = .32, p = .00). Consequential- ism was positively and significantly associated with more

outcome-oriented ethical behaviors, b = .45, t (353) = 9.99, p = .00, and formalism was negatively and signifi- cantly associated with those behaviors b = -.41, t (353) = -9.26, p = .00, even after the effects of view of

self and view of others are considered. These results con- firmed the arguments of Hypothesis 2a and 2b. The

Table 5 Study 1: The effects of view of others, view of self, and ethical predispositions on low consensus work behaviors

Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

B B B B SE g92 95 % CI

Constant 4.18** 4.18** 4.18** 4.14** .07 .90 4.00, 4.28

Social desirability .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .00 -.01, .02

View of others -.05 -.02 .13 .03 .01 -.10, .03

View of self .21 .04 .00 .09 .00 -.04, .31

Consequentialism .42** .27** .05 .07 .16, .37

Formalism -.41** -.23** .05 .05 -.33, -.13

View of others 9 View of self .03 .04 .00 -.04, .11

View of self 9 Consequentialism .37** .06 .09 .24,.49

View of self 9 Formalism -.28** .06 .06 -.40, -.16

R2 .00 .01 .33 .41

Adjusted R2 .00 .00 .32 .39

F .00 1.32 34.93** 29.72**

DR2 .00 .01 .32** .07**

DF .00 1.98 84.42** 14.37**

N = 357 for all models. Unstandardized regression coefficients are shown

* p\ .05, one-tailed ** p\ .01, one tailed

Table 6 Study 1: The effects of view of others, view of self, and ethical predispositions on low consensus vignette (intern)

Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

B B B B SE g92 95 % CI

Constant 2.70** 2.70** 2.70** 2.71** .05 .91 2.62, 2.80

Social desirability .01 .01 .01 .01 .01 .01 .00, .02

View of others .00 .02 .02 .02 .00 -.03, .06

View of self -.03 -.04 -.06 .06 .01 -.17, .05

Consequentialism .19** .12** .03 .04 .06, .19

Formalism -.20** -.11** .03 .03 -.18, -.05

View of others 9 View of self -.04 .02 .00 -.09, .01

View of self 9 Consequentialism .18** .04 .05 .10, .26

View of self 9 Formalism -.10** .04 .02 -.18, -.03

R2 .00 .01 .21 .27

Adjusted R2 .00 .01 .20 .25

F 1.14 .75 7.62** 6.83**

DR2 .00 .00 .21** .06**

DF .76 .08 45.89** 9.30**

N = 357 for all models. Unstandardized regression coefficients are shown

* p\ .05, one-tailed ** p\ .01, one tailed

476 L. S. Albert et al.

123

inclusion of the interaction terms between the ethical pre-

disposition and view of self variables significantly improved the regression model (DR2 = .07, p = .00). The interaction of view of self and consequentialism on

behavior was positive and significant, b = .37, t (353) = 5.73, p = .00 and the interaction of formalism

and view of self on behavior was negative and significant,

b = -.28, t (353) = -4.53, p = .00, thereby validating the arguments of Hypotheses 2c and 2d. Simple slope

analyses revealed that high self-esteem enhanced the positive relationship between consequentialism and out-

come-oriented ethical behavior (B = .78, t = -12.9,

p = .00) and the negative relationship between formalism and outcome-oriented behaviors (B = -.72, t = -11.06,

p = .00), while for low self-esteem individuals, the slopes

were non-significant. With regard to the vignette depicting an ethical behavior

low in social consensus, the results were consistent with

those of the low social consensus work behaviors. The main effects of view of self and view of others were not

significant (see Table 6). Both consequentialism and for-

malism influenced ethical behavior in the directions expected (DR2 = .21, p = .00). The interactions between the ethical predisposition and view of self variables sig-

nificantly improved the regression model (DR2 = .06, p = .00). Formalistic judgments are based on an argument

that behaviors that adhere to standards are ethical. When

this ideal was combined with a high view of self, the resulting behavior was the most means-based. Conversely,

consequentialism provides an argument that the ethical

status of a behavior is determined by the benefit the out- come may provide. When consequentialism was combined

with a high view of self, it resulted in the highest level of

outcome-oriented behaviors. The results of Study 1 provided support for our hypoth-

eses. Nevertheless, questions remained about the general-

izability of these findings. To address this issue, we conducted a second study with a different sample (under-

graduate students), alternative measures of key independent

variables, and a different moral domain (consumer ethics).

Study 2: Method

Sample and Procedure

Participants were 250 undergraduate business students

enrolled in a core business class in a large Western uni-

versity in the US. They completed a survey for which they received extra-credit applicable to their final course grade

for participation. Of the 250, 135 were women and 115

were men. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents indi- cated that they were Caucasian (195), 30 (12 %) indicated

that they were Asian, and 10 % (25) indicated other

ethnicities.

Measures

Ethical Behaviors of High and Low Social Consensus

Ethical behaviors of high and low social consensus were measured with a widely-used consumer ethics scale

(Muncy and Vitell 1992; Vitell 2003). The scale includes four dimensions, and we focused on the two dimensions

that most effectively represent situations high and low in

social consensus: (i) the actively benefitting from illegal actions scale (e.g., Drinking a can of soda without paying

for it) (a = .82); and (ii) the passively benefitting scale (e.g., Not saying anything when the waitress miscalculates the bill in your favor) (a = .81) (See Muncy and Vitell 1992; Vitell and Muncy 2005). Participants indicated the

extent to which they engaged in the list of behaviors on a Likert type scale (1 = never, 7 = frequently). As in Study

1, we noted that measures of unethical behavior involved a

short-term personal gain at the expense of a rule violation. Therefore, we recognized the measures as proxies for

outcome-oriented (vs. means-based) behaviors.

We validated the social consensus factor using a sepa- rate sample of undergraduate business students (N = 75).

The participants indicated the extent to which they believed

that other students agreed that the behaviors were ethically good or bad. Responses were recorded on a five point scale

ranging from 1 (‘‘There is a great deal of disagreement’’) to

5 (‘‘There is a great deal of agreement’’). Paired sample t-tests revealed that the students believed the illegal

behaviors had high social consensus (M = 4.71, SD = .29)

while the passively benefitting scale did not (M = 2.55, SD = .66), t (86) = 27.9, p = .00. The Cohen’s d (4.24)

and the effect size correlation (r = .90) indicated a large

effect.

View of Self

As a measure of view of self, we used the General Self

Efficacy Scale (Revised) (Chen et al. 2001; Schwarzer and

Jerusalem 1995). Participants rated the self-descriptiveness of eight statements (e.g., ‘‘I will be able to achieve most of

the goals that I have set for myself’’) on a five point scale

(1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; a = .82).

View of Others

As a measure of view of others, we used the Interpersonal

Trust Scale (Rotter 1967). The scale measures an individ-

ual’s general views regarding others. Participants rated their generalized expectations of others on a five point scale (e.g.,

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 477

123

‘‘An honor system in which teachers would not be present

during exams would probably result in increased cheating’’; 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; a = .85).

Consequentialism/Formalism

We used the character traits section of the Measure of

Ethical Viewpoints (Brady and Wheeler 1996) to measure the extent to which respondents preferred consequential-

istic or formalistic forms of ethical judgments.

Controls

As before, we controlled for socially desirable responding

using the Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding

(Paulhus 1984, 1998).

Study 2: Results

Means, standard deviations, and inter-correlations of the

variables are presented in Table 7. We tested each hypothesis, using the procedure similar to Study 1.

When the main effects of the interpersonal and judgment

variables on ethical behavior of high social consensus were investigated, only participants’ views of others significantly

influenced illegal actions, thereby supporting Hypotheses 1a

and 1b (DR2 = .19, p = .00), b = -.71, t (246) = -7.68, p = .00. Among the interaction terms, the only significant

interaction was that between view of self and view of others

(DR2 = .12, p = .00). Simple slope analyses revealed that when view of self was high the negative effect of view of

others on illegal actions was the strongest; B = -1.11,

t = -11.07, p = .00. When view of self was low the slope was negative but significantly less steep; B = -.22, t =

-1.94, p = .05. This finding supports the assertion of

Hypothesis 1b that when social consensus regarding an

ethical issue is high, a favorable view of self enhances the

positive effect of view of others on ethical behavior. When examining issues of low social consensus, views of

self and others did not influence ethical behaviors. However,

both consequentialism and formalism independently influ- enced the behaviors in the directions expected (Consequen-

tialism: b = .42, t (244) = 7.36, p = .00; Formalism: b = -.45, t (244) = -8.71, p = .00) and significantly improved the predictive power of themodel (DR2 = .27, p = .00). This validated Hypotheses 2a and 2b. The inclusion of the inter- action terms between the ethical judgment and self-view

variables significantly improved the regression model

(DR2 = .16,p = .00); Simple slope analyses revealed that the effects of both consequentialism and formalism were stron-

gest for individualswith the high views of self. For individuals

with high views of self, consequentialism had a significant positive effect on outcome-oriented behavior (B = .62,

t = 6.64, p = .00) and formalism had a significant negative

effect on these behaviors (B = -.73, t = -10.29, p = .00), while the slope for individuals with low self-esteem was sta-

tistically non-significant. These results provide support to the

assertions of Hypothesis 2c and 2d. The results of Studies 1 and 2 provided support for our

hypotheses. Nevertheless, these studies were not without

limitations. Most notably, the studies examined the effects of social consensus via separate and distinct measures,

which is perhaps not the strongest means for testing these

relationships. To address this issue, we designed a within- subjects exercise that isolated the effects of social con-

sensus on ethical decision-making.

Study 3: Method

Sample and Procedure

Participants were 93 managers registered on a standing panel for social scientific research (see www.studyresponse.

Table 7 Study 2: Means, standard deviations, and correlation matrix of research variables

Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6

1. View of others 3.11 1.02

2. View of self 3.43 1.10 .05

3. Formalism 4.21 2.04 -.02 .10

4. Consequentialism 4.28 1.70 -.07 .15* .30**

5. Social desirability 9.45 5.84 .25** .04 -.07 -.03

6. Illegal behaviors 3.97 1.61 -.46** -.08 .04 -.02 -.16**

7. Passive behaviors 4.32 1.87 .02 .07 -.27** -.40** .10 .10

N = 250

* p\ .05, two-tailed ** p\ .01, two-tailed

478 L. S. Albert et al.

123

com for details). Forty were female. Seventy-four were

Caucasian, 13 were Asian, 3 were African-American, 2 were Native-American, and 1 was Hispanic. When asked to

select an age category, 3 selected 22–25 years old, 15

marked 26–30, 34 marked 31–40, 23 marked 41–50, and 15 indicated they were 51 or older. In addition, 63 indicated at

least 10 years of work experience.

Participants were contacted by the panel administrators and offered the opportunity to participate in this online in-

basket exercise in exchange for $5. Consistent with our instructions, participants required 26 min, on average, to

complete the exercise.

Design

The designwas a repeatedmeasures experiment. Thewithin- subjects factorwas social consensus. Participantswere asked

to assume the identity of a manager in a fictitious company

and were presented with several tasks to complete (order office supplies, read a memo, etc.). One of the exercises was

recommending punishment for employees who had engaged

in specific behaviors. The behaviors were designed to rep- resent two conditions of social consensus. The behavior high

in social consensus was, ‘‘An employee threatened his

supervisor’s life after a performance review session.’’ The behavior low in social consensus was, ‘‘An employee spent a

workday afternoon in her cubicle doing her personal income

taxes on her computer.’’ This factor was validated via an expert panel.We contacted five individualswho research and

teach on the topic of business ethics. We presented a list of 8

behaviors, including the 2 behaviors in this study, to the panel members and asked them to what extent they believed

society generally agreed about the ethical standing of each

behavior (1 = people are very likely to disagree about whether this is unethical; 5 = people are very likely to agree

that this is unethical). Data from this group indicated that the

expert panel believed the first behavior (threat) had a high degree of social consensus (mean = 5.00) while the second

behavior did not (mean = 2.60). These differences were

statistically significant (t = 4.71; p\ .01) and thus vali- dated our design. The behaviors were randomly presented to

the participants.

Measures

Ethical Behaviors of High and Low Social Consensus

Ethical behavior was measured as the punishment recom- mended by the participant for the behavior high in social

consensus and the behavior low in social consensus. For

each behavior, participants could recommend a punishment of increasing severity: 1 = do nothing, 2 = verbal repri-

mand, 3 = written reprimand, 4 = suspension, 5 = ter-

mination. Punishment is considered to be a second-order ethical decision in that it is contingent upon the first-order

behavior of another. As the colloquialism ‘‘the punishment

fits the crime’’ suggests, punishment is the punisher’s behavioral response toward the first-order act (Bedau

2010). More severe punishments, which reflect an unwill-

ingness to accept the violation of the moral rules involved in the situation, were considered to be ethical behaviors,

and, using the same logic as in Studies 1 and 2, were

considered to be more means-based behaviors. Seven par- ticipants did not provide answers for both measures, so

ultimately we collected 172 observations for analysis.

Independent Variables

Formalism, consequentialism, view of self, and view of others were measured with the same scales as in Study 1. In

the case of view of others, the questions were contextu-

alized and referred to the participants’ co-workers, parents/ care-givers, and bosses and leaders. All of the scales

demonstrated reliability and factor loadings comparable to

Study 1.

Table 8 Study 3: Means, standard deviations, and correlation matrix of research variables

Variable Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5

1. High consensus punishment 4.42 .89 1.00

2. Low consensus punishment 2.86 .94 .09 1.00

3. Formalism 6.27 .74 .52** .15 1.00

4. Consequentialism 5.72 .74 .19 .13 .54** 1.00

5. View of self 3.92 .71 .39** -.14 .30** .17 1.00

6. View of others 5.33 .94 .19 .20 .17 .13 .25*

N = 86

** p\ .01 * p\ .05

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 479

123

Study 3: Results

Means, standard deviations and a correlational matrix of all

of the variables in this study are presented in Table 8. A paired samples t test of the two measures of the dependent

variable generated a t value of 11.69 (p = .00) indicating a

within-subjects effect. To analyze the nature of this effect, we conducted a General Linear Model (GLM) repeated

measures analysis. Test of within-subjects effects are

reported in Table 9. Per the table, formalism and view of others demonstrated significant effects across measures

(H1a and H2b). In other words, the effects of these vari-

ables on the dependent variable varied according to the factor, social consensus. Similarly, the interaction effects

of view of self/formalism and view of self/view of others

were also similarly significant across measures (H1b and H2c). To examine the nature of these interaction effects,

we referred to the parameter estimates generated by GLM

analysis for each independent measure. For the behavior

high in social consensus, the interaction of view of self and view of others significantly predicted the punishment rec-

ommendation (B = .33, p\ .01) while the interaction of view of self and formalism did not (B = -.31, p = .13). As Fig. 4 demonstrates, punishment was harshest when

view of self and view of others were highest. For the issue

low in social consensus, in contrast, the interaction of view of self and formalism was significant (B = .65, p = .01)

while the interaction of view of self and view of others was

not (B = -.27, p = .07). To our argument, punishment was harshest when view of self and formalism were both

highest (Fig. 5). Consequentialism was not a significant

factor in any of these models. In hindsight, we recognize that Brady (1985) argued that formalists are past-oriented

and consequentialists are future-oriented, and that this

exercise emphasized the past (e.g., what someone did) but provided no information about the future conditions of the

employees (e.g., the consequences for the company of

terminating an employee). In that light, these specific

Table 9 Study 2: Within-subject effects on punishments

Source Mean square F Partial g 2

Factor (Social Consensus High and Low) .34 .63 .01

Factor 9 formalism 7.00 13.09** .14

Factor 9 consequentialism 1.05 1.95 .02

Factor 9 view of self .73 1.36 .02

Factor 9 view of others 7.22 13.49** .15

Factor 9 view of self 9 formalism 5.80 10.84** .12

Factor 9 view of self 9 consequentialism .77 1.44 .02

Factor 9 view of self 9 view of others 6.45 12.06** .13

Error .54

N = 86

Number of observations = 172

** p\ .01

P un

is hm

en t

- View of Self +

View of Others +

View of Others - 2

0

Fig. 4 Study 3: The interaction of view of others and view of self on punishment (high consensus)

P un

is hm

en t

- View of Self +

Formalism +

Formalism -

2

0

Fig. 5 Study 3: The interaction of formalism and view of self on punishment (low consensus)

480 L. S. Albert et al.

123

results were not surprising. On the whole, then, the results

of Study 3 provided strong support for four of our hypotheses.

General Discussion

Our objective in this research was to test whether an integrated model combining principles from ethical cog-

nitive and interpersonal research streams would help explain ethical behavior more comprehensively. Our

results suggest that individuals rely on both judgments

about the ethical issue and perceptions of others when facing ethical issues. Results indicate, however, that whe-

ther the individual uses judgments about the issue or view

of others to make ethical decisions depends on whether the ethical issue involves high social consensus or not. The

results of these studies indicated that when social consen-

sus regarding an issue was high, the individual’s view of others positively influenced ethical behavior independent

of the influence of cognitive judgments about the issue. In

contrast, when social consensus was low, ethical predis- positions influenced ethical behavior even after the effects

of view of others were accounted for. Importantly, the

results of all three studies indicate that an individual’s view of self is a key moderator in these relationships.

Theoretical Implications

From a theoretical perspective, these results make impor-

tant contributions to the discipline of behavioral ethics. To begin, this research contributes to literatures on ethical

cognition by providing additional evidence of the general

importance of ethical predispositions. It is well established that ethical judgments are very important to ethical

behavior, but these findings confirm and extend existing

work which suggests that the processes and effects of ethical judgments are quite nuanced. Clearly, individuals

engage in cognitive analyses of ethical issues, but this

research confirms that social consensus is a critical factor in activating and shaping the influence of different pro-

cesses. Moreover, this research demonstrates the moder-

ating role that view of self plays in influencing ethical behaviors of low social consensus.

Additionally, this research contributes to the interper-

sonal research stream by demonstrating the importance of an individual’s view of others in explaining ethical

behaviors of high social consensus. This research specifi-

cally demonstrates that an unfavorable view of others causes managers to engage in overt unethical behaviors

prescribed by society as being explicitly wrong. Further, it

clarifies the moderating role that view of self plays in influencing ethical behaviors of high social consensus.

When considering an issue of high social consensus, a

favorable image of the self seems to intensify the effect of the individual’s view of others on unethical behaviors,

causing a powerful interaction of characteristics that in its

most extreme form may perhaps reflect a sense of entitle- ment and superiority above existing social norms. As a

possible example of this effect, managers at Manville

Corporation suppressed evidence that asbestos inhalation was posing a risk to their own employees (Sims 1992).

Although we can only speculate on the causes for this specific violation, it is plausible to suggest that overarch-

ingly negative views of others may have combined with

inflated views of self to contribute to this overt ethical violation.

We further note that given our choice of measures, our

research also contributes to work on self-esteem and deviant behavior. Perhaps as a matter of tradition, some

have assumed that individuals with low self-views engage

in deviant behavior (e.g., Long 1990; Wiehe 1991). This study, however, confirms the counter-intuitive findings of

other recent work: Individuals with overly favorable self-

image do engage in deviant and unethical behavior. Our research clarifies these inconsistencies by suggesting that

view of self does not directly predict deviant behavior.

Instead, it influences the relationship between view of others and ethical behavior. In the present research, view of

self also interacted with consequentialism and formalism to

magnify their effects on ethical behavior in situations low in social consensus. Such a finding is important in that it

clarifies the nature of this well-known but misunderstood

relationship.

Limitations and Future Research

This research is not without limitations. First, perhaps our

results are construct-dependent. For example, scholars have

identified numerous constructs to represent the cognitions associated with ethical decision-making, so future research

should be willing to utilize constructs other than conse-

quentialism and formalism to confirm our results. Second, the nature of our designs does not allow us to definitively

establish the causal arguments we hypothesize. Granted,

our core constructs are individual traits and it is inherently difficult to establish causal relationships with such vari-

ables. Nevertheless, future research could focus on designs

that establish causality more definitively than these designs have allowed. Third, although we employed a wide variety

of measures of ethical behavior including self-reported

direct measures, vignettes, and an in-basket simulation, we did not capture all of the different variants of ethical

behavior. Future research could utilize more operational-

izations of the dependent variable including direct mea- sures that are more common in lab studies (e.g., lying) and

Turning Inward or Focusing Out? 481

123

less direct measures that might be identified in field

observations. Future research might also examine multiple constructs representing core self evaluations (such as self-

confidence, ego-strength, etc.) and evaluations of others to

capture additional variance across these related yet distinct domains. Of course, no research or stream of research will

ever capture all of the diversity that is reflected in the

concept of ethical behavior, but to the extent that researchers can focus on meaningful representations of

distinctive elements of the concept, then the merits of our claims and the generalizability of our results can be

established more fully.

Practical Implications

In our view, this research provides some explanation of why individuals engage in behaviors that are widely

regarded as unethical. Our research suggests that a negative

view of others, coupled with an overly favorable view of the self, is associated with behaviors often regarded as self-

serving or even arrogant. In today’s competitive work-

place, achievement and performance are well-rewarded. A positive self-image seems to correlate positively with self-

confidence, achievement and competence. Consequently,

we might expect to see managers with favorable self- images receive positive performance evaluations and pro-

motions to positions of power and influence. This increases

the likelihood that these managers will have strong con- victions about their views of others and their judgments of

ethical situations. Whereas managers with favorable views

of others will likely emphasize their duties and obligations to others and express their convictions by protecting fair-

ness and justice in their organizations, managers with less

favorable views of others would likely emphasize the pursuit of their own self-interest at the expense of others

and express their convictions by engaging in unethical

behavior. They may even build an environment that tol- erates ethical violations more nonchalantly, exert pressure

on subordinates to behave unethically, and possibly culti-

vate an unethical organizational climate (Sweeney et al. 2010). Consequently, behaviors that were traditionally

condemned as ethically reprehensible might become

commonplace in the organization. This research helps us understand the importance of promoting managers who

regard others favorably and treat others with fairness and

respect. This strengthens calls for improving organizational evaluation systems to include assessments of managerial

fairness and ethical performance in addition to traditional

evaluations of organizational goal-related performance. This research also provides several insights regarding ways

of improving ethical behavior in organizations. First,

organizations can devote attention to improving individual ethical judgments in organizations. To the extent that

employees are improving their cognitive skills, they are

more likely to make sound decisions, particularly in situa- tions where strong consensus has yet to be achieved. Sec-

ond, this study expounds the importance of social

consensus in understanding, predicting and managing the ethical behavior of managers. Organizations can conceiv-

ably reduce the ambiguity of important ethical issues by

communicating and establishing the organization’s view of behaviors that may not engender high social consensus. In

this way, organizations can provide their own consensus about ethical issues and guide individual behavior through

this individual decision-making path.

Conclusion

Ethical behavior is a complicated phenomenon. Given the

complexity that any ethical issue can entail, it seems rea-

sonable that an individual could respond with comparable degrees of complexity. In that sense, it seems quite logical

that an individual would utilize different sets of processes

to respond to different ethical issues. For as obvious as that conclusion might seem, researchers have only begun to

explore explanations that account for multiple processes.

We hope that our research provides a useful example of how such research can proceed and thereby opens a door

for other similar efforts.

Acknowledgments We thank Leonard. M. Horowitz for his valu- able help with the development of this research. We are also grateful to David Day, Dawn DeTienne, Ray Hogler, Debbie Moskowitz, Dan Ganster, Karl Aquino, Mark Baldwin, Kenneth Locke, Alyssa Gib- bons, Carolyn Dang and Rosemond Desir for their constructive sug- gestions. Jenny Reed and Joshua Bennett provided assistance for this research.

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