2. Moral Self

Antecedents and consequences of unethical behavior

One of the primary challenges facing organizations today lies in the core of human morality: mitigating widespread ethically questionable actions by organizational actors at all levels.  People care about being moral and want to feel good about themselves.  In my work, I seek to understand the antecedents and consequences of engaging in ethically questionable behavior, and design organizational interventions to communicate ethics effectively. 



Polluted morality: Air pollution predicts criminal activity and unethical behavior (2018)

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


In search of moral equilibrium: Person, situation, and their interplay in behavioral ethics (2018)

To what extent our unethical behavior a product of dispositional, or situational forces? We argue that unethical behavior should be understood in terms of the dynamic interplay between dispositional factors – such as one’s ability and willpower, personality traits, and motivations and identity, and trait-relevant situational factors.

Envy and interpersonal corruption: Social comparison processes and unethical behavior in organizations (2016)

Our purpose in this chapter is to explore the role of upward social comparisons and the emotional reactions they trigger in the context of unethical behavior. Under what conditions do the potential benefits and costs of an action to others (motivated at least in part by social comparisons and the invidious emotions that these social comparisons can produce) cause an employee to cross ethical boundaries? An understanding of the motives underlying unethical behavior is essential in order for research on unethical behavior in organizations to progress. In exploring this issue, we seek to further the understanding of envy, social comparison processes, and unethical behavior in organizations in three main ways.


The physiology of (dis)honesty: Does it impact health? (2016)

Research suggests that dishonest acts may be embodied. That is, when a person anticipates, or acts, dishonestly, the choice or behavior is not only reflected in the mind but also in the brain and body. While recent summaries of virtuous acts suggests that truth, altruism, and fairness confer a suite of psychological and health benefits to the benefactor, we suggest that lying, cheating, and stealing may do the opposite. We review the neuroscience, psychophysiology, and endocrinology of dishonesty and suggest that, over time, such behavior may be bad for our health.


Hormones and ethics: Understanding the biological basis of unethical behavior (2015)

Globally, fraud has been rising sharply over the last decade, with current estimates placing financial losses at greater than $3.7 trillion annually. Unfortunately, fraud prevention has been stymied by lack of a clear and comprehensive understanding of its underlying causes and mechanisms. In this paper, we focus on an important but neglected topic—the biological antecedents and consequences of unethical conduct—using salivary collection of hormones (testosterone and cortisol). We hypothesized that pre-performance cortisol levels would interact with pre-performance levels of testosterone to regulate cheating behavior in 2 studies. Further, based on the previously untested cheating-as-stress-reduction hypothesis, we predicted a dose–response relationship between cheating and reductions in cortisol and negative affect. Taken together, this research marks the first foray into the possibility that endocrine-system activity plays an important role in the regulation of unethical behavior. 

Poker-faced morality: Concealing emotions leads to utilitarian decision making (2015)

This paper examines how making deliberate efforts to regulate aversive affective responses influences people’s decisions in moral dilemmas. We hypothesize that emotion regulation—mainly suppression and reappraisal—will encourage utilitarian choices in emotionally charged contexts and that this effect will be mediated by the decision maker’s decreased deontological inclinations. In Study 1, we find that individuals who endorsed the utilitarian option (vs. the deontological option) were more likely to suppress their emotional expressions. In Studies 2a, 2b, and 3, we instruct participants to either regulate their emotions, using one of two different strategies (reappraisal vs. suppression), or not to regulate, and we collect data through the concurrent monitoring of psycho-physiological measures. We find that participants are more likely to make utilitarian decisions when asked to suppress their emotions rather than when they do not regulate their affect. In Study 4, we show that one’s reduced deontological inclinations mediate the relationship between emotion regulation and utilitarian decision making. 

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