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Ethical Decision Making and Leadership: Merging Social Role and Self-Construal Perspectives


This research extends our understanding of ethical decision making on the part of leaders by merging social role and self-construal perspectives. Interdependent self-construal is generally seen as enhancing concern for justice and moral values. Across two studies, we tested the prediction that non-leading group members’ interdependent self-construal would be associated with lower levels of unethical decision making on behalf of their group but that, in contrast, this relationship would be weaker for leaders, given their social role. These predictions were experimentally tested by assigning participants to the role of leader or non-leading group member, and assessing the association between their interdependent self-construal and their unethical decision making. Across both studies, interdependence predicted less unethical decision making on behalf of one’s group for non-leading group members. However, the leader role was shown to weaken, and even reverse, this relationship. This research demonstrates that self-construal influences group-based ethical decision making, but that the nature of this influence is moderated by social role.

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  1. 1.

    Because self-construal, like other types of schemas and beliefs, is seen as both stable and enduring over time (Singelis 1994) as well as a temporarily accessible situational-level construct (Brewer and Gardner 1996; van Prooijen and van den Bos 2009), an attempt was made in this study to prime participants’ self-construal by employing pronoun tasks asking participants to circle pronouns (we/us [interdependent] or I/me [independent]) in a brief story and use these pronouns in a short writing task. Analyses revealed that the manipulation was ineffective in altering participants’ self-reported interdependent self-construal and results do not significantly differ when this is included as a control variable. Thus, the failed priming will not be discussed further.

  2. 2.

    The general unethical decision making measure was somewhat positively skewed with skewness statistics at 1. A square root transformation was successful in decreasing the skewness and analyses with the transformed variable yield results similar to those with the untransformed scores. For ease of interpretation, analyses are presented with the untransformed data.


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We acknowledge and thank Andrew Benford, Justin Jackson, and Heather Schmitz for their contributions to this research.

Author information

Correspondence to Crystal L. Hoyt.

Additional information

Crystal L. Hoyt, Jepson School of Leadership Studies and Department of Psychology, University of Richmond; Terry L. Price, Jepson School of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL), University of Richmond.

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Hoyt, C.L., Price, T.L. Ethical Decision Making and Leadership: Merging Social Role and Self-Construal Perspectives. J Bus Ethics 126, 531–539 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1974-x

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  • Ethics
  • Group-based decision making
  • Interdependent self-construal
  • Leadership
  • Social roles