Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp 37–57 | Cite as

Decreasing Unethical Decisions: The Role of Morality-Based Individual Differences

  • Rachel E. Sturm


Given the potential dangers of unethical decisions in the workplace, it has become increasingly important for managers to hire, and promote into leadership positions, those who are morally inclined. Behavioral ethics research has contributed to this effort by examining an array of individual difference variables (e.g., locus of control) that play a role in morality. However, past research has focused mostly on direct causal effects and not so much on the processes (including mediation) through which different factors, especially those that are morality based, decrease unethical choices. The purpose of the current research is to examine the process, which includes both subconscious and conscious decision pathways, through which moral attentiveness curbs unethical decision making at the individual level. The findings of a study employing about 200 participants and a cheating task reveal that both accurate ethical prototypes and moral awareness of the situation decreased unethical decisions, and moral attentiveness was found to be positively related to both of these constructs. In addition, having accurate ethical prototypes was found to be a partial mediator between perceptual moral attentiveness and less cheating, while moral awareness was found to be a partial mediator between reflective moral attentiveness and less cheating. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.


Ethical decision making Moral attentiveness Ethical prototypes Moral awareness Subconscious decisions Individual-level unit of analysis 



I would like to acknowledge the support I received from my dissertation committee members—Leanne Atwater, Steve Werner, Jim Phillips, and Lisa Penney—while working on this paper at the University of Houston. I also gratefully acknowledge the financial support I received from the Jesse H. Jones Dissertation Completion Grant at the University of Houston in order to complete my empirical study. In addition, I would like to thank David Bright and Scott Taylor for helpful comments received on previous versions of this manuscript. I am also very grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments throughout the review process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management and International Business, Raj Soin College of BusinessWright State UniversityDaytonUSA

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