Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 245–261 | Cite as

An Exploratory Study of Counterexplanation as an Ethical Intervention Strategy



The purpose of this exploratory study is to examine the use of an ethical intervention strategy – counterexplanation – on individuals’ ethical decision-making. As opposed to providing reasons to support a decision in the case of explanation, counterexplanation is the provision of reasons that either speak against or provide evidence against a chosen course of action. The number of explanations and/or counterexplanations provided by the participants is expected to have a significant effect on ethical evaluation and intention. The number of explanations is expected to be negatively related to ethical decision-making while the number of counterexplanations is expected to be positively related to ethical decision-making. The experiment, that made use of five ethical vignettes, manipulated four treatment groups – explanation, counterexplanation, explanation/counterexplanation, and counterexplanation/explanation. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the four reatments. They performed the requirements of their treatment before recording their ethical evaluations and intentions. As expected, larger numbers of explanations led to less ethical decision-making and larger numbers of counterexplanations led to more ethical decision-making. However, when both types of explanations are required, the order of counterexplaining before explaining is more desirable as it leads to more ethical decision-making. The study also reports that individuals with high social desirability bias (a tendency to present oneself in a culturally acceptable manner) may generate less counterexplanations. Implications of the findings are explained in the paper.


explanations social desirability bias ethical evaluations ethical intentions 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Schulich School of BusinessYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.School of Business and Information Management,Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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