Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 13–22 | Cite as

The Effects of Victim Anonymity on Unethical Behavior

  • Kai Chi YamEmail author
  • Scott J. Reynolds


We theorize that victim anonymity is an important factor in ethical decision making, such that actors engage in more self-interested and unethical behaviors toward anonymous victims than they do toward identifiable victims. Three experiments provided empirical support for this argument. In Study 1, participants withheld more life-saving products from anonymous than from identifiable victims. In Study 2, participants allocated a sum of payment more unfairly when interacting with an anonymous than with an identifiable partner. Finally, in Study 3, participants cheated more from an anonymous than from an identifiable person. Anticipated guilt fully mediated these effects in all three studies. Taken together, our research suggests that anonymous victims may be more likely to incur unethical treatment, which could explain many unethical business behaviors.


Anonymity Behavioral ethics Anticipated guilt 



We thank Xiao-Ping Chen for her constructive comments in an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Michael G. Foster School of BusinessUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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