Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 140, Issue 1, pp 17–42 | Cite as

Circles of Ethics: The Impact of Proximity on Moral Reasoning

  • Cristina Wildermuth
  • Carlos A. De Mello e Souza
  • Timothy Kozitza


We report the results of an experiment designed to determine the effects of psychological proximity—proxied by awareness of pain (empathy) and friendship—on moral reasoning. Our study tests the hypotheses that a moral agent’s emphasis on justice decreases with proximity, while his/her emphasis on care increases. Our study further examines how personality, gender, and managerial status affect the importance of care and justice in moral reasoning. We find support for the main hypotheses. We also find that care should be split into two components, one related to protection (or compassion) and the other to the preservation of relationships. Although gender does not affect moral reasoning directly, we find that it does so indirectly via personality, controlling for age, professional status, and professional background. We do not find a significant effect of managerial status on ethics of justice, but do find that holding a managerial position has a negative impact on ethics of care. Regarding personality, we detect significant positive effects of conscientiousness on ethics of justice and of neuroticism on ethics of care.


Ethics of care Ethics of justice Five-factor model Gender Moral reasoning Personality traits Psychological proximity Structural equation model 



Akaike information criterion


Oliver John’s Big Five Inventory


Big Five Inventory with 10 questions used in this study


Big Five Inventory with 44 questions

Big Five traits












Care-Protection factor


Care-Relationships factor


Circles of ethics


Greatest lower bound to reliability


Generalized structural equation modeling

Goodness-of-fit statistics for structural equation models


Comparative Fit Index


Root mean square error of approximation


Standardized root mean square residual


Tucker–Lewis Index


Human resources


Human resource management


Myers–Briggs Type Indicator


Moral reasoning


Moral reasoning instrument with 20 questions designed for this study


Structural equation modeling


Society for Human Resources Management


Training and Development


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina Wildermuth
    • 1
  • Carlos A. De Mello e Souza
    • 2
  • Timothy Kozitza
    • 3
  1. 1.School of EducationDrake UniversityWest Des MoinesUSA
  2. 2.Albers School of Business and EconomicsSeattle UniversitySeattleUSA
  3. 3.Nationwide InsuranceWaukeeUSA

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