Can exposure to media portrayals of human violence impact an individual’s ethical decision making at work? Ethical business failures can result in enormous financial losses to individuals, businesses, and society. We study how exposure to human violence—especially through media—can cause individuals to make less ethical decisions. We present three experiments, each showing a causal link between exposure to human violence and unethical business behavior, and show this relationship is mediated by an increase in individual hostility levels as a result of exposure to violence. Using observational data, we then provide evidence suggesting that this relationship extends beyond the context of our experiments, showing that companies headquartered in locations marked by greater human violence are more likely to fraudulently misstate their financial statements and exhibit more aggressive financial reporting. Combined, our results suggest that exposure to human violence has significant and real effects on an individual’s ethical decision making.
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Our 8-item measure included a list of four “secondary emotions” (2 positive and 2 negative) and four “primary emotions” (2 positive and 2 negative) and asked subjects to rate on a 7-point scale (7 = very much, 1 = not at all) the capacity of people in general to feel each emotion. We created an index of “secondary emotions” by averaging individual responses to the four emotions. Individuals with low scores on this scale are viewed as seeing others as less human.
Although previous research has not explored the effects of exposure to violence on ethics for females (or males), it does indicate that females exhibit revulsion to depictions of violence (Malamuth and Check 1981).
Three different mediation tests using PROCESS by Hayes (2013) are used to test whether dehumanization, perceived arousal, or state aggression mediate the relationship between watching violent videos and lying. Given that results differed by gender, Gender is included as a moderator between violent videos and lying (supplementary tests using gender as a moderator for the relation between violent video and the mediator or the mediator and lying showed that both genders responded relatively similarly to the violent video). The arousing and boring video are collapsed into one condition and compared against the violent video. Panel B reports indirect effect tests (direct tests for males showed significant relations between violent video in all tests, with p value <0.05; thus state aggression is a partial and not full mediator of the relation).
Consider for example a firm that makes sales on account; this increases revenue in the current period with no increase in cash. However, in a future period, cash is collected. This regression model will account for this delay in cash collection. A large residual would occur when cash is not collected, which could result when revenues are fraudulently reported.
Using the absolute value treats negative and positive deviations as poor quality; a firm can deliberately understate or overstate earnings. An alternative is to use the signed residual and interpret overstatements of earnings as more problematic. Our overall inferences are unchanged if we use the signed residual instead of the absolute value. Also, we note that because future cash flow is included in this model, it cannot be used in a predictive fashion; however, we use it to test for the association between a firm’s accruals quality and violence.
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Gubler, J.R., Herrick, S., Price, R.A. et al. Violence, Aggression, and Ethics: The Link Between Exposure to Human Violence and Unethical Behavior. J Bus Ethics 147, 25–34 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2926-4