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The Effects of the Dark Triad on Unethical Behavior

Abstract

This article uses behavioral theories to develop an ethical decision-making model that describes how psychological factors affect the development of unethical intentions to commit fraud. We evaluate the effects of the dark triad of personality traits (i.e., psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism) on fraud intentions and behaviors. We use a combination of survey results, an experiment, and structural equation modeling to empirically test our model. The theoretical insights demonstrate that psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism affect different parts of the unethical decision-making process. Narcissism motivates individuals to act unethically for their personal benefit and changes their perceptions of their abilities to successfully commit fraud. Machiavellianism motivates individuals not only to act unethically, but also alters perceptions about the opportunities that exist to deceive others. Psychopathy has a prominent effect on how individuals rationalize their fraudulent behaviors. Accordingly, we find that the dark triad elements act in concert as powerful psychological antecedents to fraud behaviors.

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Notes

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    Removing the measurement items reduced the Cronbach’s alpha values in the shortened scales; however, all items continued to exhibit high statistical reliability. To test the effects of reducing the number of measurement items, we compared the results of factor analyses and preliminary tests of our structural model when using five-item and three-item scales. Trimming the scales to three items for each construct did not change the significance of any paths or substantive interpretations of the model or factor structure. These results provide evidence that the measures are reflective and interchangeable, and support the decision to remove redundant items.

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Correspondence to Andrew Harrison.

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Andrew Harrison, James Summers and Brian Mennecke declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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

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Brian Mennecke passed away during the revision of the manuscript and is no longer at Iowa State University. Brian was at Iowa State University during the writing and revision of the manuscript.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Table 4 Scale development construct reliability and validity
Table 5 Scale development pattern matrix
Table 6 Comparison of factor structures
Table 7 Tests of differential effects using experiment data

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Harrison, A., Summers, J. & Mennecke, B. The Effects of the Dark Triad on Unethical Behavior. J Bus Ethics 153, 53–77 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3368-3

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Keywords

  • Dark triad
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Fraud triangle
  • Machiavellianism
  • Narcissism
  • Psychopathy