Moral Differentiation: Exploring Boundaries of the “Monkey See, Monkey Do” Perspective
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- O’Fallon, M.J. & Butterfield, K.D. J Bus Ethics (2011) 102: 379. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-0820-2
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Research in ethical decision making has consistently demonstrated a positive relationship between others’ unethical behavior and observers’ unethical behavior, providing support for the “Monkey See, Monkey Do” perspective (e.g., Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly, Acad Manage J 41:658–672, 1998). However, the boundaries of this relationship have received little research attention. Guided by theory and research in interpersonal distancing, we explore these boundaries by proposing and examining “moral differentiation,” the set of individual and situational characteristics that affect the degree to which one is willing to be influenced by others’ unethical behavior. Using data from 655 undergraduate business students in two U.S. universities, we test moderating hypotheses regarding the influence of moral differentiation characteristics on the relationship between others’ unethical behavior and observers’ unethical behavior. Results suggest that strong moral identity, low need for affiliation, and extraversion weaken the relationship between others’ unethical behavior and observers’ unethical behavior. Implications for managers and future research are discussed.