Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 171–210 | Cite as

To Whistleblow or Not to Whistleblow: Affective and Cognitive Differences in Reporting Peers and Advisors

  • Tristan McIntoshEmail author
  • Cory Higgs
  • Megan Turner
  • Paul Partlow
  • Logan Steele
  • Alexandra E. MacDougall
  • Shane Connelly
  • Michael D. Mumford
Original Paper


Traditional whistleblowing theories have purported that whistleblowers engage in a rational process in determining whether or not to blow the whistle on misconduct. However, stressors inherent to whistleblowing often impede rational thinking and act as a barrier to effective whistleblowing. The negative impact of these stressors on whistleblowing may be made worse depending on who engages in the misconduct: a peer or advisor. In the present study, participants are presented with an ethical scenario where either a peer or advisor engages in misconduct, and positive and the negative consequences of whistleblowing are either directed to the wrongdoer, department, or university. Participant responses to case questions were evaluated for whistleblowing intentions, moral intensity, metacognitive reasoning strategies, and positive and negative, active and passive emotions. Findings indicate that participants were less likely to report the observed misconduct of an advisor compared to a peer. Furthermore, the findings also suggest that when an advisor is the source of misconduct, greater negative affect results. Post-hoc analyses were also conducted examining the differences between those who did and did not intend to blow the whistle under the circumstances of either having to report an advisor or peer. The implications of these findings for understanding the complexities involved in whistleblowing are discussed.


Whistleblowing Ethical decision making Ethics Misconduct 



We would like to thank Tyler Mulhearn, Genevieve Johnson, Alisha Ness, and Logan Watts for their contributions to the present effort.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helskinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Anderson, M. S., Louis, K. S., & Earle, J. (1994). Disciplinary and departmental effects on observations of faculty and graduate student misconduct. The Journal of Higher Education, 65, 331–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of Management Review, 14, 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Basch, J., & Fisher, C. D. (2000). Affective events-emotions matrix: A classification of work events and associated emotions. In N. M. Ashkanasy, C. E. J. Härtel, & W. J. Zerbe (Eds.), Emotions in the workplace: Research, theory, and practice (pp. 36–48). Westport, CT: Quorum Books.Google Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bhal, K. T., & Dadhich, A. (2011). Impact of ethical leadership and leader–member exchange on whistle blowing: The moderating impact of the moral intensity of the issue. Journal of Business Ethics, 103, 485–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bjørkelo, B. (2013). Workplace bullying after whistleblowing: Future research and implications. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28, 306–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blenkinsopp, J., & Edwards, M. S. (2008). On not blowing the whistle: Quiescent silence as an emotion episode. In W. J. Zerbe, C. E. J. Härtel, & N. M. Ashkanasy (Eds.), Emotions, ethics, and decision-making (pp. 181–206). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing/JAI Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braxton, J., Proper, E., & Bayer, A. (2011). Professors behaving badly: Faculty misconduct in graduate education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brown, J. D., Novick, N. J., Lord, K. A., & Richards, J. M. (1992). When Gulliver travels: Social context, psychological closeness, and self-appraisals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 717–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, M. E., Treviño, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97, 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cacioppo, J. T., Gardner, W. L., & Berntson, G. G. (1999). The affect system has parallel and integrative processing components: Form follows function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 839–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connelly, M. S., Helton, W. B., Schultz, R., Van Doorn, J. R., Benavidez, J., Thompson, H., & Mumford, M. D. (2000). Assessment tool report: Review of existing tools and development of new tools (Vols. 1 and 2). Technical Report for the Department of Defense (contract No. 1999*I033800*000). Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma, Department of Psychology.Google Scholar
  13. Connelly, S., Helton-Fauth, W., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). A managerial in-basket study of the impact of trait emotions on ethical choice. Journal of Business Ethics, 51, 245–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Demirtas, O., & Akdogan, A. A. (2015). The effect of ethical leadership behavior on ethical climate, turnover intention, and affective commitment. Journal of Business Ethics, 130, 59–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dozier, J. B., & Miceli, M. P. (1985). Potential predictors of whistle-blowing: A prosocial behavior perspective. Academy of Management Review, 10, 823–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dutton, J. E., Dukerich, J. M., & Harquail, C. V. (1994). Organizational images and member identification. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39, 239–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ettorre, B. (1994). Whistleblowers: Who’s the real bad guy? Management Review, 83, 18–23.Google Scholar
  18. Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Frijda, N. H. (2005). Emotion experience. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 473–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fuller, J. B., Hester, K., Barnett, T., Frey, L., Relyea, C., & Beu, D. (2006). Perceived external prestige and internal respect: New insights into the organizational identification process. Human Relations, 59, 815–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Greenberger, D. B., Miceli, M. P., & Cohen, D. J. (1987). Oppositionists and group norms: The reciprocal influence of whistle-blowers and co-workers. Journal of Business Ethics, 6, 527–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hall, A. T., Blass, F. R., Ferris, G. R., & Massengale, R. (2004). Leader reputation and accountability in organizations: Implications for dysfunctional leader behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 515–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Henik, E. (2008). Mad as hell or scared stiff? The effects of value conflict and emotions on potential whistle-blowers. Journal of Business Ethics, 80, 111–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model. Academy of Management Review, 16, 366–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jones, J. C., Spraakman, G., & Sánchez-Rodríguez, C. (2014). What’s in it for Me? An examination of accounting students’ likelihood to report faculty misconduct. Journal of Business Ethics, 123, 645–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jubb, P. B. (1999). Whistleblowing: A restrictive definition and interpretation. Journal of Business Ethics, 21, 77–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keil, M., Tiwana, A., Sainsbury, R., & Sneha, S. (2010). Toward a theory of whistleblowing intentions: A benefit-to-cost differential perspective. Decision Sciences, 41, 787–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. King, G., & Hermodson, A. (2000). Peer reporting of coworker wrongdoing: A qualitative analysis of observer attitudes in the decision to report versus not report unethical behaviour. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 28, 309–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kligyte, V., Connelly, S., Thiel, C., & Devenport, L. (2013). The influence of anger, fear, and emotion regulation on ethical decision making. Human Performance, 26, 297–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kligyte, V., Marcy, R. T., Sevier, S. T., Godfrey, E. S., & Mumford, M. D. (2008). A qualitative approach to responsible conduct of research (RCR) training development: Identification of metacognitive strategies. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14, 3–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lee, K., & Allen, N. J. (2002). Organizational citizenship behavior and workplace deviance: The role of affect and cognitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 131–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgment and choice. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 473–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger, and risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 146–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mael, F., & Ashforth, B. E. (1992). Alumni and their alma mater: A partial test of the reformulated model of organizational identification. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 103–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. May, D. R., & Pauli, K. P. (2002). The role of moral intensity in ethical decision making a review and investigation of moral recognition, evaluation, and intention. Business and Society, 41, 84–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miceli, M. P., & Near, J. P. (1985). Characteristics of organizational climate and perceived wrongdoing associated with whistle-blowing decisions. Personnel Psychology, 38, 525–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Miceli, M. P., & Near, J. P. (1988). Individual and situational correlates of whistle-blowing. Personnel Psychology, 41, 267–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Milliken, F. J., Morrison, E. W., & Hewlin, P. F. (2003). An exploratory study of employee silence: Issues that employees don’t communicate upward and why. Journal of Management Studies, 40, 1453–1476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Morgan, R. B. (1993). Self-and co-worker perceptions of ethics and their relationships to leadership and salary. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 200–214.Google Scholar
  40. Motowidlo, S. J., Dunnette, M. D., & Carter, G. W. (1990). An alternative selection procedure: The low-fidelity simulation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 640–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mumford, M. D., Connelly, S., Brown, R. P., Murphy, S. T., Hill, J. H., Antes, A. L., Waples, E. P., & Devenport, L. D. (2008). A sensemaking approach to ethics training for scientists: Preliminary evidence of training effectiveness. Ethics and Behavior, 18, 315–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Near, J. P., & Jensen, T. C. (1983). The whistleblowing process retaliation and perceived effectiveness. Work and Occupations, 10, 3–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Near, J. P., & Miceli, M. P. (1985). Organizational dissidence: The case of whistle-blowing. Journal of Business Ethics, 4, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ness, A. M., & Connelly M. S. (2017). Situational influences on ethical sensemaking: Performance pressure, interpersonal conflict, and the recipient of consequences, Human Performance, 2–3, 1–22.Google Scholar
  45. Palmer, G. (1986). Windmill-tilting whistleblower turns advocate. Retrieved from
  46. Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 123–205.Google Scholar
  47. Pinder, C. C., & Harlos, K. P. (2001). Employee silence: Quiescence and acquiesences as responses to perceived injustice. In K. M. Rowland & G. R. Ferris (Eds.), Research in personnel and human resources management (Vol. 20, pp. 331–369). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  48. Redmond, M. R., Mumford, M. D., & Teach, R. (1993). Putting creativity to work: Effects of leader behavior on subordinate creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 55, 120–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rehg, M. T., Miceli, M. P., Near, J. P., & Van Scotter, J. R. (2008). Antecedents and outcomes of retaliation against whistleblowers: Gender differences and power relationships. Organization Science, 19, 221–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schmeichel, B. J., Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (2003). Intellectual performance and ego depletion: Role of the self in logical reasoning and other information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1983). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well-being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 513–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sims, R. R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron ethics (or: Culture matters more than codes). Journal of Business Ethics, 45, 243–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Singer, M., Mitchell, S., & Turner, J. (1998). Consideration of moral intensity in ethicality judgments: Its relationship with whistle-blowing and need-for-cognition. Journal of Business Ethics, 17, 527–541.Google Scholar
  54. Smith, C. A., & Ellsworth, P. C. (1985). Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 813–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 379–440.Google Scholar
  56. Sumanth, J. J., Mayer, D. M., & Kay, V. S. (2011). Why good guys finish last: The role of justification motives, cognition, and emotion in predicting retaliation against whistleblowers. Organizational Psychology Review, 1, 165–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Trevino, L. K., & Victor, B. (1992). Peer reporting of unethical behavior: A social context perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 35, 38–64.Google Scholar
  58. Vadera, A. K., Aguilera, R. V., & Caza, B. B. (2009). Making sense of whistle-blowing’s antecedents: Learning from research on identity and ethics programs. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19, 553–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. van Knippenberg, A. F. M. (1984). Intergroup differences in group perceptions. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), The social dimension: European developments ln social psychology (pp. 560–578). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Victor, B., Trevino, L. K., & Shapiro, D. L. (1993). Peer reporting of unethical behavior: The influence of justice evaluations and social context factors. Journal of Business Ethics, 12, 253–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Watts, L. L., & Buckley, M. R. (2015). A dual-processing model of moral whistleblowing in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 1–15. doi: 10.1007/s10551-015-2913-9.
  62. Westin, A. F. (1981). Whistle-blowing: Loyalty and dissent in the corporation. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tristan McIntosh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cory Higgs
    • 1
  • Megan Turner
    • 1
  • Paul Partlow
    • 1
  • Logan Steele
    • 2
  • Alexandra E. MacDougall
    • 3
  • Shane Connelly
    • 1
  • Michael D. Mumford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Muma College of BusinessUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.College of Business AdministrationCentral Michigan UniversityMt. PleasantUSA

Personalised recommendations