The Impact of Codes of Ethics on Decision Making: Some Insights from Information Economics
- Cite this article as:
- Lere, J.C. & Gaumnitz, B.R. Journal of Business Ethics (2003) 48: 365. doi:10.1023/B:BUSI.0000005747.37500.c8
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Although it is suggested that an important role for codes of ethics is to influence decision making, the little research into the impact of codes of ethics on decisions finds little impact. Insights from information economics help to explain this.
If an individual will select (forego) the action that a code of ethics indicates to be ethical (unethical) in the absence of a code, then expressing that position in a code of ethics will have no impact on the action chosen. Even if the individual will select (forego) the action that a code of ethics indicates to be unethical (ethical) in the absence of a code, the presence of a statement in the code of ethics must cause the individual's beliefs to change enough so that he or she changes actions. This can be a fairly high obstacle.
Enforcement provisions can increase the likelihood that an individual will select (forego) the action that a code of ethics indicates to be ethical (unethical). There are limits, however, as to how effective enforcement provisions can be.
Therefore, although there may be other important goals for a code of ethics, having an impact on decision making is one that is often difficult to achieve.