Social Justice Research

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 223–236

Ethical Fading: The Role of Self-Deception in Unethical Behavior

Article

Abstract

This paper examines the root of unethical dicisions by identifying the psychological forces that promote self-deception. Self-deception allows one to behave self-interestedly while, at the same time, falsely believing that one's moral principles were upheld. The end result of this internal con game is that the ethical aspects of the decision “fade” into the background, the moral implications obscured. In this paper we identify four enablers of self-deception, including language euphemisms, the slippery slope of decision-making, errors in perceptual causation, and constraints induced by representations of the self. We argue that current solutions to unethical behaviors in organizations, such as ethics training, do not consider the important role of these enablers and hence will be constrained in their potential, producing only limited effectiveness. Amendments to these solutions, which do consider the powerful role of self-deception in unethical decisions, are offered.

ethics decision making self-deception ethics training 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Badaracco, J. L., and Webb, A. P. (1995). Business ethics: A view from the trenches. Calif. Manage. Rev. 37(2): 8-28.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1999). Moral disengagement in the perpetuation of inhumanities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3: 193-209.Google Scholar
  3. Barth, J. (1958). The End of the Road, Seeker and Warburg, London.Google Scholar
  4. Bok, S. (1989). Secrets, Vintage Books, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Bok, D. (1978). Lying, Vintage Books, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Browning, L. (2003). Ethics lacking in business school curriculum. New York Times, C3.Google Scholar
  7. Business Week Online, (2003, January 21), Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.comGoogle Scholar
  8. Cowley, G., Rosenberg, D., and Brant, M. (1995, July 17). A prescription that kills. Newsweek, p. 54.Google Scholar
  9. Dinehart, J., Moberg, D., and Duska, R. (eds.). (2001). The Next Phase of Business Ethics: Integrating Psychology and Ethics, Elsevier Science, Oxford.Google Scholar
  10. Demos, R. (1960). Lying to oneself. J. Philos. 57: 588-595.Google Scholar
  11. Fandt, P. M., and Ferris, G. R. (1990). The management of information and impressions: When employees behavior opportunistically. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 45: 140-158.Google Scholar
  12. Fingarette, H. (1969). Self-Deception, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.Google Scholar
  13. Freud, S. (1957). Splitting of the Ego in the Defensive Process. (Collected papers, James, Strachey, ed. and Trans.) Hogarth Press, London.Google Scholar
  14. Haight, M. R. (1980). A Study of Self-Deception, Harvester Press, Sussex, England.Google Scholar
  15. Joseph, J. (2003). National Business Ethics Survey 2003: How Employees View Ethics in Their Organizations, Ethics Resource Center, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  16. Kelman, H. C., and Hamilton, L. (1989). Crimes of Obedience, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.Google Scholar
  17. Larrick, R. P., and Blount, S. (1997). The claiming effect: Why players are more generous in social dilemmas than in ultimatum games. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 31: 479-486.Google Scholar
  18. Lewicki, R. J., and Litterer, J. (1985). Negotiation, Richard D. Irwin, Homewood, II.Google Scholar
  19. March, J. G. (1995). A Primer on Decision Making, Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Maremont, M. (1996, September 16). Anatomy of a fraud. Business Week, pp. 90-94.Google Scholar
  21. McGill, A. L., and Tenbrunsel, A. E. (2000). Mutability and propensity in the causal selection process. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 79: 677-689.Google Scholar
  22. Messick, D. M. (1999a). Dirty secrets. In Thompson, L. L., Levine, J. M., and Messick, D. M. (eds.), Shared Cognition in Organizations: The Management of Knowledge, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 71-88.Google Scholar
  23. Messick, D. M. (1999b). Alternative logics for decision making in social settings. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 38: 11-28.Google Scholar
  24. Messick, D. M., and Bazerman, M. H. (1996). Ethical leadership and the psychology of decision making. Sloan Manage. Rev. 37(2): 9-22.Google Scholar
  25. Messick, D. M., and Tenbrunsel, A. E. (eds.) (1996). Codes of Conduct: Behavioral Research into Business Ethics, Russell Sage, New York.Google Scholar
  26. Pillutla, M., and Chen, X. P. (1999). Social norms and cooperation in social dilemmas. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 78: 81-103.Google Scholar
  27. Richards, C. (1999). The transient effects of limited ethics training. J. Educ. Bus. 74(6): 332-334.Google Scholar
  28. Ritov, I., and Baron, J. (1990). Reluctance to vaccinate: Omission bias and ambiguity. J. Behav. Decis. Making 3: 263-277.Google Scholar
  29. Speer, A. (1970). Inside the Third Reich, Avon Books, New York.Google Scholar
  30. Tenbrunsel, A. E. (1995). Justifying Unethical Behavior: The Role of Expectations of Others' Behavior and Uncertainty. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.Google Scholar
  31. Tenbrunsel, A. E., and Messick, D. M. (1999). Sanctioning systems, decision frames, and cooperation. Adm. Sci. Q. 44: 684-707.Google Scholar
  32. Tenbrunsel, A. E., Smith-Crowe, K., and Umphress, E. E. (2003). Building houses on rocks: The role of the ethical infrastructure in organizations. Soc. Justice Res. 16(3): 285-307.Google Scholar
  33. Weil, J. (2003, April 24). `Pro forma' in earnings reports?... As if. Wall Street Journal, C1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mendoza College of BusinessUniversity of Notre DameNotre Dame
  2. 2.Kellogg School of ManagementNorthwestern UniversityEvanston

Personalised recommendations