Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 138, Issue 1, pp 133–144 | Cite as

Mental Models and Ethical Decision Making: The Mediating Role of Sensemaking

  • Zhanna Bagdasarov
  • James F. Johnson
  • Alexandra E. MacDougall
  • Logan M. Steele
  • Shane Connelly
  • Michael D. Mumford


The relationship between mental models and ethical decision making (EDM), along with the mechanisms through which mental models affect EDM, are not well understood. Using the sensemaking approach to EDM, we empirically tested the relationship of mental models (or knowledge representations about an ethical situation) to EDM. Participants were asked to depict their mental models in response to an ethics case to reveal their understanding of the ethical dilemma, and then provide a response, along with a rationale, to a different ethical problem. Findings indicated that complexity of respondents’ mental models was related to EDM, and that this relationship was mediated by sensemaking processes (i.e., cause and constraint criticality, and forecast quality). The implications of these findings for improving integrity training in organizations, as well as ultimately understanding the role of mental models in EDM, are discussed.


Ethics Knowledge Mental models Sensemaking Ethical decision making 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhanna Bagdasarov
    • 1
  • James F. Johnson
    • 2
  • Alexandra E. MacDougall
    • 3
  • Logan M. Steele
    • 3
  • Shane Connelly
    • 3
  • Michael D. Mumford
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Management, Craig School of BusinessCalifornia State University, FresnoFresnoUSA
  2. 2.Strategic Research & Assessment BranchAir Force Personnel CenterRandolph Air Force BaseUSA
  3. 3.University of OklahomaNormanUSA

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