Printer Friendly

The impact of moral intensity dimensions on ethical decision making: Assessing the relevance of orientation (*).

During the last decade, calls for increasing the emphasis of ethics in individual and corporate decision making have come from many diverse sources including public interest groups, political and religious leaders, and the general public. An acute awareness of potential and actual business abuses has generated increased attention focused on identifying the causes of unethical business behaviors (Akaah, 1997; Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Fritzsche, 1995; Wyld and Jones, 1997). With such a wide range of support, ethical decision making is an area which has experienced increased levels of interest and research (see Low et al., 2000, for an excellent review of empirical studies on ethical decision making). The existing literature on ethical decision making often narrowly focuses on the moral decisions involved in a specific business such as the ethics of marketing decisions (Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Hunt and Vitell, 1986; Robin et al., 1996; Singhapakdi et al., 1996). As illustrated in Low et aL 's (2000) review, t he need for research in the arena of ethical decision making is still very strong.

In a significant step toward understanding the many components involved in ethical decision making, Jones (1991) integrated existing theoretical models of individual decision making, many of which, when considered alone, appeared incomplete. Noting that explicit consideration of the characteristics of the issue itself was missing from all the models, Jones offered an issue-contingent model of ethical decision making. Jones identified six characteristics of an issue, which he collectively labeled moral intensity, that must be considered in an ethical decision. Finally, Jones argued that moral intensity influences every step of the ethical decision-making process.

Some empirical research to date has explored the concept of moral intensity in ethical decision making (e.g., Davis et al., 1998; Marshall and Dewe, 1997; Singer and Singer, 1997; Weber, 1996). However, additional research is needed to better understand the elements which play a role in this complicated process (Ford and Richardson, 1994). The purpose of this study is to determine whether the moral intensity of an issue, which Jones (1991) argued can and does vary from issue to issue, does, in fact, impact the perceived ethicality of an issue. First, the impact of three of the dimensions of moral intensity on an ethical decision--concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity--is considered. Second, the strength of the effect of moral intensity on an ethical decision across three unique orientations (self, other, organization) is examined. This work is important for both research and practice. There has been no research conducted on the influence of orientation to the ethical decision-making p rocess, and this information may help explain the process. In addition, information regarding this effect would benefit managers in their attempt to improve the ethical behavior of those who are making decisions for their company.

In order to set the stage for this study, a background of ethical decision making will be presented, followed by specific detail and research on Jones' (1991) model. This will be followed by a detailed explanation of the current study, including a discussion of the three dimensions of moral intensity included in the study and the importance of orientation in ethical decision-making research. Next, the methods section includes details of the current study, followed by a presentation of the results. The final section includes a discussion of the findings of the current study, including the impact on future research.

Ethical Decision Making

Before an in-depth discussion of Jones' (1991) model is presented, some general groundwork must be laid. Specifically, ethics and ethical decision making must be defined. Ethics refers to "the rules or principles that define right and wrong conduct" (Davis and Frederick, 1984: 76). Many of these rules are applied when an individual is required to make a decision. Hence, ethical decision making has become an area of research interest. The moral base or rules that are applied to determine right and wrong are often developed from one's cognitive moral development (Blasi, 1980; Fraedrich et al., 1994; Kohlberg, 1969, 1981), value base (Musser and Orke, 1992; Rokeach, 1968, 1973), or moral philosophies (Beauchamp and Bowie, 1979; Gavanagh et al., 1981; De George, 1986). Therefore, ethical decision making is the process by which individuals use their moral base to determine whether a certain issue is right or wrong.

For purposes of this study it is important to note that although moral decisions can have positive outcomes or benefits, most discussions of moral issues refer to the potential negative outcomes. Positive outcomes for all involved parties would not create a moral dilemma. Therefore, in this article the discussion of moral intensity of issues focuses on the harmful consequences of the act under consideration (or the failure to act). Secondly, consistent 'with other research in ethics, we use the words "moral" and "ethical" interchangeably (Jones, 1991). The following section will provide a summary of the comprehensive model provided by Jones.

Jones' (1991) Model

Jones' (1991) model relies significantly on the work of existing models (Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Ferrell and Gresham, 1985; Hunt and Vitell, 1986; Rest, 1986; Trevino, 1986), but also extends them. He draws on Rest's (1986) model outlining four distinct components; recognizing the moral issue, making a moral judgment, establishing moral intent, and engaging in moral behavior. More specifically, his model suggests that individuals encounter moral or ethical issues within the personal environments of their daily living. These personal environments are complex, including diverse and sometimes conflicting social, economic, cultural, and organizational elements (Ferrell and Gresham, 1985; Hunt and Vitell, 1986). According to Jones (1991), the first step in the ethical decision-making process requires that the individual be capable of recognizing the moral dilemma in an act or in the failure to act. Failure to recognize a moral choice places the individual's behavior outside the realm of the ethical decision-maki ng process. Once a moral dilemma is recognized, the individual is then asked to make a moral judgment and establish a moral intent. Included in the moral intent phase are individual and situational moderating variables as well as variables of opportunity and significant others. Following the establishment of moral intent, the final step of Jones' model depicts the individual engaging in moral behavior.

What differentiates Jones' (1991) model from previous ones is that past models failed to consider the explicit characteristics of the issue as either an independent or moderating variable. If the issue itself is not significant, then the individual's process of making ethical decisions will be the same for all moral issues. By explicitly rejecting such a notion and assuming that the characteristics of the issue do matter in the ethical decision-making process, Jones incorporated moral intensity into his model. Herndon describes moral intensity as "the degree of 'badness' of an act" (1996: 504). Moral intensity includes six dimensions: concentration of effect, probability of effect, proximity, social consensus, temporal immediacy, and magnitude of consequence. These influence every step of the decision-making process.

Previous Research

Some empirical research has been conducted on Jones' (1991) model. The findings from these studies have been inconsistent for most of the dimensions of moral intensity. The exceptions are magnitude of consequence and social consensus, which have both received strong support from previous studies (Harrington, 1997; Morris and McDonald, 1995; Singer and Singer, 1997; Weber, 1996). Singer et al. (1998) found significant results for magnitude of consequence, social consensus, and temporal immediacy. The other components of moral intensity have received mixed results. For example, Morris and McDonald (1995) found that in the aggregate, the six dimensions of moral intensity represented a significant portion of the total variance in moral judgment. However, when looking at the dimensions separately, the authors found magnitude of consequence and social consensus to be significant, while the other four dimensions received only partial support. The study by Singhapakdi et al. (1996) shows general support for Jones' (1 991) model, with the exception of proximity, which was not significantly correlated with ethical intentions. Singer and Singer (1997) found strong support for social consensus and magnitude of consequence, but found partial or no support for the other components of moral intensity. Marshall and Dewe (1997) discovered that individuals did look at situations differently, but found mixed results for Jones' (1991) model.

It appears from these studies that there are some difficulties with research considering moral intensity. One concern is that there is no consistent measurement instrument available (Harrington, 1997). In order to measure moral intensity, items have been created specifically for use with one study (Singer and Singer, 1997), while other studies have used a single item to measure each component of moral intensity (Morris and McDonald, 1995; Singhapakdi et al., 1999; Singhapakdi et al., 1996). This practice provides some methodological problems, but was felt to be appropriate in the exploratory stage of research. Researchers have called for a better measure in order to improve the quality of the research and further test Jones' (1991) model (Harrington, 1997; Morris and McDonald, 1995; Singhapakdi et al., 1996). The current study was designed to examine these issues with a more complex measure of three of the moral intensity dimensions.

Another concern that was found in the research on moral intensity is the failure to consider the effect of varying orientations. For example, does the same impact of moral intensity hold if the individual perceives the situation to involve himself or herself versus others. Previous studies have viewed moral intensity from the perspective of the subject (Harrington, 1997; Marshall and Dewe, 1997; Singer and Singer, 1997) or from an external focus on the behavior of others (Morris and McDonald, 1995; Singer, 1999; Singhapakdi et al., 1996; Weber, 1996). No previous research has measured the effect of orientation on moral intensity. The present study incorporates this element while simultaneously examining three dimensions of moral intensity.

Current Study

As evidenced by the previous research, further empirical examination is needed to understand the stability of the construct of moral intensity as well as the relationships among the components. This need provides the purpose for this study. It is expected that the moral intensity of an issue will increase if there is an increase in any one of the components.

In addition, thresholds may be important in determining when a component significantly contributes to the moral intensity of an issue. For example, how concentrated does the effect have to be deemed morally wrong? Or how close does the decision maker have to feel to the victim for proximity to influence the moral intensity of an issue and thereby influence the behavior of the decision maker?

This article begins to answer some of these questions through an empirical investigation of these issues. Due to the complex nature of moral intensity and the exploratory nature of this empirical investigation, only three of the six moral intensity dimensions presented by Jones (1991) are included in this study: concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity. These three dimensions were selected for use in this attempt at understanding moral intensity in the ethical decision-making process due to the potential to be able to distinguish among them. In addition, Singer et al.'s study (1998) showed significant results for each of the other three dimensions (magnitude of consequence, social consensus, and temporal immediacy), while the three dimensions in the current research have experienced mixed results in previous research. It should be understood that the relationship to orientation is not limited only to the three dimensions included in this article, but may indeed be related to all six dimen sions of moral intensity.

The current research measured three dimensions of moral intensity (concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity) and considered the impact of each on moral judgments in different situations. In order to directly measure moral intensity, much needed scales designed to measure these three dimensions of moral intensity were developed and tested. In the next section, specific hypotheses about each of the three moral intensity dimensions included in this research are developed.

Concentration of Effect

One of Jones' (1991) factors of moral intensity in ethical decision making is concentration of effect. Concentration of effect, or whether the impact of an act is felt by an individual or a group, is predicted to affect the perceived ethicality of a situation. In other words, if a decision maker was placed in a situation where one person was hurt, the decision maker would be more likely to view the act as unethical than if placed in a situation where a group of individuals were hurt. This is consistent with other research which suggests that individuals dislike the effects of unethical acts on the individual (Rawls, 1971). An example of concentration of effect would be cheating an individual out of a given sum of money versus cheating a large corporation out of a sum of money. The individual example has a greater concentration of effect. Therefore,

Hypothesis 1: As the concentration of the effect of an ethical decision increases, individuals will perceive a higher degree of ethicality of the act involved.

Probability of Effect

Another characteristic of the issue that Jones (1991) believed would impact the ethical decision is the probability of effect. Probability of effect refers to the likelihood an act will cause harm. The more likely an act is to cause harm, the greater the propensity of an individual to view the act as unethical. For example, Jones (1991) suggested that selling a gun to a known armed robber has greater probability of harm than selling a gun to a law-abiding citizen. Therefore,

Hypothesis 2: As the probability of effect of an ethical decision increases, individuals will perceive a higher degree of ethicality of the act involved.


Finally, the moral intensity dimension of proximity is considered. If an individual feels close to the victim in the situation, this closeness will affect his or her perception of ethicality (Jones, 1991). More specifically, the greater the proximity or the closer the individual relates to the victim in the situation, the more likely the individual will be to see the act as unethical or ethical. Other research has supported this idea in that high proximity has influenced the behavior of the actor in both a teacher-student relationship and an attorney-client relationship (Fried, 1976; Milgram, 1974). An example of proximity is selling a dangerous product in one's own country rather than selling the same product in a foreign nation. Therefore,

Hypothesis 3: As the proximity of the effect of an ethical decision increases, individuals will perceive a higher degree of ethicality of the act involved.


Studies in decision making have considered the differences in perception of "self" with that of "other." One such example is found in Kray's (2000) study of the decision-making processes enacted when one is an advisor contrasted with those processes used in making decisions for one's self. Another example can be found in a study of the desirability of consequences for self and for others (Cole et al., 2000). These studies illustrate that individuals may use different processes or make different decisions based on whether they are personally involved or whether they act as an outsider to the decision.

Similarly, research has shown that individuals might make different decisions based on whether they are in a business or nonbusiness situation (Weber, 1990). Specifically, Weber (1990) found that individuals use a lower level of moral reasoning when in a business situation than when in a non-business context. A further line of research has found a great deal of support for organizational factors which can affect one's ethical behavior (Jones and Hiltebeitel, 1995; Soutar et al., 1995; Verbeke et al., 1996). In this way, we see that an individual may incorporate different decision-making processes when working from the perspective of the organization than they would for their own personal decisions.

Morris and McDonald (1995) called for future research that would include different focuses of moral judgment (e.g., individual, organizational, and/or environmental contingencies). In the ethical decision-making literature, previous studies have considered moral intensity from the viewpoint of the subject (Harrington, 1997; Marshall and Dewe, 1997; Singer and Singer, 1997) or of others (Morris and McDonald, 1995; Singhapakdi et al., 1996; Weber, 1996). However, different focuses or orientations have not been considered in a single study. Differences in focus are needed to see if the impact of moral intensity holds across different perspectives. Three unique orientations were used in the current study: the subjects were placed in the situation (self), the subject was placed in the situation as another person (other), and an organizational-level situation (organization) was used. It is expected that the perception of ethicality would be greater in a situation from a personal perspective, in comparison to situat ions of others or those in which an organization is affected. In other words, the moral intensity may be such that it would affect an individual more when placed in the situation personally than when he or she was an onlooker or in the case of an organizational-level situation. For example, one might decide that it would be appropriate to take into consideration the feelings of the person when making a decision for oneself, whereas that may not affect a decision at the organizational level. Therefore,

Hypothesis 4: As the orientation of the situation moves from self to organization, the impact of moral intensity on degree of ethicality will decrease.

The above hypotheses were tested using a questionnaire approach, which actually measured the degree of moral intensity and the decision made after placing the respondent in three different orientations: self, other, and organization. The details of and results from the study follow.


The first step was to develop scales designed to directly measure the components of moral intensity. These scales were then used to assess the impact of these three dimensions of moral intensity on making a moral judgment after controlling for recognition of the moral issue. This impact was tested with scenarios from three different orientations (self, other, and organization). Subjects were presented with the three scenarios and asked to respond to a variety of questions that indicated whether or not they deemed the situation involved an ethical choice, whether or not the act in question was ethical, and which action should be taken.


The sample consisted of 337 upper-level college students from a large southern university. Demographic data were not collected in an attempt to ensure anonymity and avoid socially desirable responses. However, demographics of the population from which the sample was taken was approximately 60% male, had an average age of 22, and was 95% white.


Data collection was conducted by distributing the survey in a classroom setting for extra credit. Three scenarios, which represented the orientations of self, other and organization, were used in the present study. The scenarios were developed based on actual situations so that they would have high face validity. The complete scenarios are provided in the appendix. Each individual was asked to respond to all three scenarios, one for each of the orientations: self, other, and organization. For each of the three scenarios the respondents were asked to answer eleven questions (3 for concentration of effect, 3 for probability of effect, 3 for proximity, 1 for ethicality, 1 for recognition). Each of these scales and their items are provided in the measures section below. (The complete questionnaire is available from the authors upon request.)

To ensure the respondents in the current study were all keying on the same information, the victim in the situation and the act itself were both specified at the end of the scenario. For example, if the scenario had multiple actors then the victim was clearly stated, as well as the ethical act that was to be considered, to make sure that each individual was rating the same action. Scenario research methodology has been used effectively in the past and provided several benefits for our research such as standardized stimuli, allowing the respondents to become involved in the scenario, and making it possible to create an accurate description of a specific context (Ferris et al., 1997; Frederickson and Mitchell, 1984; Niehoff et al., 1998; Staw, 1975; Watson et al., 1999). Furthermore, this approach provided information regarding generalizability and an understanding of how the dimensions hold for different orientations.


In order to measure each of the moral intensity dimensions of interest--concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity--three items for each dimension were generated from a review of the ethics literature, Jones' definitions and examples, and the authors' own ideas concerning the concepts. All items were measured on a five-point scale with the anchor for 1 being "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" for 5. These items were used on each of the three scenarios.

Concentration of Effect. Three items were used to measure the number of people affected: 1) This act will hurt a few people very badly, 2) The consequences of this act could devastate the victim(s), and 3) This act will cause little harm to all the victims (reverse coded). The internal consistency estimate for this scale was .78.

Probability of Effect. The probability that the act will occur and cause benefit/harm was measured with three items: 1) There is a strong likelihood this act will cause harm, 2) This act has a strong likelihood of having a negative impact on the victim, and 3) There is no possibility of harm resulting from this act (reverse coded). The Cronbach alpha for this scale was .77.

Proximity. The proximity of the individual to the moral issue was measured with three items: 1) I feel for the victim in the situation, 2) I empathize with the victim in this situation, and 3) I do not feel close to the victim (reverse coded). The alpha reliability for this scale was .78.

Ethicality. The dependent variable of interest was the ethicality of the situation described in the scenario. In other words, did the subject see the act in question as ethical or unethical. To measure this, the respondent was asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement "The act is morally wrong."

Recognition of Moral Issue. According to the comprehensive model provided by Jones (1991) and consistent with the ethical decision-making models of Rest (1986) and Hunt and Vitell (1986), the recognition of a moral issue is an antecedent to the moral judgment. They argue that an individual must first recognize the issue as an ethical problem before a moral judgment can take place. Hence, in order to insure that we were adequately testing Jones' (1991) ideas, the respondent indicated their level of agreement with the following statement, "This is an ethical dilemma."


In order to establish that the items for each of the three moral intensity dimensions were unique, confirmatory factor analysis using LISREL was conducted. Several indicators were used to determine the fit of the model to the data. The goodness of fit index (GFI) provided a measure of the extent to which the covariance matrix estimated by the hypothesized model reproduces the observed covariance matrix (James and Brett, 1984). The adjusted goodness of fit index (AGFI) adjusts the GFI for sample size. The comparative fit index (GFI) was used because it assesses a model's fit in relation to the worst and best fit attainable. Finally, parsimonious normed fit index (PNFI) was used in order to examine the parsimony of the model.

Once the moral intensity dimension scales were established, they were used as independent variables in multiple regression equations with ethicality as the dependent variable, after controlling for the recognition of a moral issue. Three separate regression equations were run--one for each orientation (self, other, organization).


The means, standard deviations, intercorrelations, and sample size for the variables of interest are presented in Table 1. As was expected, most of the variables are significantly related.

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

In order to establish the structure of the three moral intensity dimensions, a confirmatory factor analysis was conducted. The model tested consisted of three latent variables, each representing a component of moral intensity. Each latent variable was predicted by the three items developed to measure it. Each of the items loaded strongly on its respective factor. In addition, the model fit the data well, suggesting the factor structure held for three factors with three items each as predicted (GFI=.96; AGFI=.92; GFI=.97; PNFI=.64).

Regression Analyses

To test the three hypotheses, multiple regression analysis was performed. Three different regression equations were run, as noted above. However, the equation run in each case was the same. Specifically, each of the three moral intensity scales were used to predict the degree of ethicality the individual found in the situation. In addition, the recognition of the moral issue was entered first in order to control for the effects of recognition on making the moral judgment. The regression results can be found in Table 2.

Self. For the self-orientation, recognition had a significant impact on ethical decision making and explained 35% of the variance. However, only the moral intensity dimension of proximity played a significant role in predicting moral judgment. Thus, hypothesis 3, the effects of proximity, was supported, but hypotheses 1 and 2 were not.

Other. For the other-oriented scenario, the regression results suggested that recognition plays a role in predicting decision making as does the moral intensity dimension of proximity, providing support for hypothesis 3. However, concentration of effect and probability of effect were not significant predictors, illustrating no support for hypotheses 1 and 2. In this orientation, recognition explained 10% of the variance with the remaining (30%) explained variance coming from the moral intensity dimensions. In addition, compared to the self-orientation, less overall variance was explained.

Organization. Finally, for the organization orientation, similar to the previous two orientations, recognition and proximity were significant predictors while concentration of effect and probability of effect were not. Thus, once again, support was found for hypothesis 3, but not for 1 and 2. However, with the organization orientation, recognition played a smaller role (4%) in the variance explained. In addition, a total of 19% of the variance in the decision was explained which is less than half of either of the other two orientations.

Orientation. Based on the declines of explained variance across the orientations, hypothesis 4 was supported. As the situation moved from self-to organization orientation, the explained variance dropped from 35% for self to 19% for organization. The difference between self- and organizational orientation is significantly different (z = 2.3, p<.05) (Parket, 1974). This would suggest that as the individual is further removed from the ethical situation, different factors come into play in the decision-making process.


Previous research suggested that individuals respond differently to moral issues according to the characteristics of the situation (Harrington, 1997; Singer and Singer, 1997). However, the current research found only partial support for this assertion. More specifically, three of Jones' (1991) dimensions of moral intensity (concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity) were examined to determine if differences in these issues would result in different perceptions of ethicality. Results suggested that differences in these characteristics did not change perceptions of ethicality for concentration of effect or probability of effect. However, the dimension of proximity did have a significant impact on the moral judgment of a situation such that the closer in proximity an individual was to the situation, the greater the perception of ethicality.

In addition, the orientation of the scenario (self, other, organization) was examined to determine if it played a role in perceptions of ethicality. More of the variance in the moral judgment was explained by the situation in which the individual was an active participant than when the situation dealt with a broader-level organizational situation. This would suggest that as a situation becomes less personal, people allow different factors to play a role in the decision-making process, potentially reducing the moral intensity of the situation. This finding has implications for decision making within organizations. Because organizations now rely more on individuals to make decisions for the entire organization (Hartman and Nelson, 1996), it is important to be aware that the impact of moral intensity appears to be decreased for these types of decisions. Managers should take extra care to ensure that ethical decisions are being made even when the orientation may be more impersonal. The manager's subordinates sh ould be made aware that there is a potential for reduced moral intensity in situations with an orientation further removed than self.

A continuation of the current study would be to study these effects in a group setting. In such a setting, it could be discovered whether decision making in a group enhances these findings so that the "distance" between the group and the orientation becomes more of a factor or if a group setting equalizes the process, so that those decisions made at the organization level receive the same consideration as those at an individual level.

As with all empirical research, there are limitations that should be mentioned. The dependent variable used to assess the individual's perception of ethicality of the situation was measured with a single question rather than a scale. A measure with more items would have allowed for a test for reliability. Future research is needed to develop a scale to determine the degree of perceived ethicality in the situation. Another limitation was that the scenarios were not randomized, potentially creating bias. Thus, in the future, scenarios should be provided in random order. In addition, the sample for this study was college students. While the use of students as subjects has been criticized, there are several reasons why this sample is useful for this study. First, the scenarios were applicable to the student sample used in the study. Subjects were not asked to role play nor were they asked to place themselves in situations in which they would never find themselves (i.e., CEO of a major corporation). Second, the m ain topic of interest, recognizing the ethicalness of everyday situations, should not be limited to only those individuals who have worked full time. In fact, research has found that student populations and practicing managers are similar in their perception of the ethical issues in decision making (Lysonski and Gaidis, 1991; Wimalasiri et at., 1996).

Likewise, there are several strengths of this research which should be noted. First, it was empirical in nature, and there is a great need for empirical research with respect to ethics (Ford and Richardson, 1994). The items developed in this study to measure three components of moral intensity quantified Jones' (1991) ideas and the items produced a strong factor structure. These items could be included in future studies. In addition, the items developed to test these three components of moral intensity could be used as a model for the development of future scales for the remaining three dimensions. Another strength of this research was the inclusion of orientation, which had not previously been considered in studies of Jones' (1991) model. Since this was a first attempt to operationalize the impact of orientation in ethical decision making, future research is needed to further explore the way in which orientation influences an individual's decision.

The results of this research suggest that orientation should be included when considering ethical decision making. This line of research should be extended to all six dimensions of moral intensity to better understand the theoretical implications of orientation. In addition, the current study suggests the need to consider validity when measuring moral intensity dimensions. In order to move the study of moral intensity out of the exploratory stage, better measures are needed to further test Jones' (1991) model. A more complex instrument for three of the dimensions of moral intensity was developed for the current study. Constructing a measurement instrument for all six of the dimensions of moral intensity would enable the study of Jones' (1991) model to be performed in a more consistent manner than it has previously been conducted. In light of the findings of this study, further research needs to be performed with respect to moral intensity in order tom clarify the ethical decision-making process, particularly with respect to Jones' (1991) model.

Appendix 1

Description of Survey and Ethical Scenarios

Overview of Survey and Use of Scenarios: For each of the three scenarios below, the respondent was asked to read the scenario and answer 11 questions on a five-point Likert Scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. More specifically, three questions were asked for each of the three moral intensity dimensions (concentration of effect, probability of effect, proximity) for a total of nine items. In addition, one item was asked regarding ethicality of the situation and one item was asked regarding recognition of a moral issue. Each of these 11 items can be found in the measures section of the manuscript. In conclusion, each individual responded to a total of 33 items after completing all three scenarios.


You have lived in the same house for twelve years and there is a lovely wooded lot between you and your neighbor on the east. Your neighbors are elderly (early eighties) and have owned their home, and the lot, for 35 years. Your neighbor comes to you and tells you he has decided to sell the lot, and asks if you have an interest in buying it. You have secretly wanted it for years. You ask him what he is going to ask for the lot and he says "Oh, I thought I would ask eight or nine thousand dollars for it." You realize the older couple has lost sight of property values in the neighborhood. You estimate the lot's value at $27,000. You buy the lot for $9,000 from the older man.

Victim: old man

Act: not paying fair market value for the lot


Chris is a car dealer who purchases cars that have been in accidents, often totaled, from junk yards. He then refurbishes and sells them as quality cars. Jane is a college co-ed who is buying her first car to get her to and from college. She wanders on the Chris' lot and is sold a car that was previously totaled and deemed "road unworthy." From all appearances the car looks to be in good shape but in reality the frame is cracked and every time she drives it her life is in danger.

Victim: Jane

Act: selling a totaled car to Jane


A large manufacturer of baby food sold apple juice concentrate which they labeled as 100% fruit juice and promoted as "good nutrition that tastes good." They bought their concentrate, which they also used in the making of other products, from a distributor. After a year, the purchasing organization became suspicious of the low price and found out that fruit concentrates were adultered and the concentrate was made primarily of beet sugar, apple flavor, caramel color, and corn syrup. Even after the company realized the concentrate was not pure, it continued to use the concentrate and promote its product as 100% apple juice.

Victim: the purchasing public

Act: selling fake apple juice
Table 1

Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations Among the Variables of

 Variable Mean SD 1 2 3

1. Concentration of effect 2.47 1.05 ---
2. Probability of effect 2.12 .97 .77 (**) --
3. Proximity 2.18 .88 .56 (**) .58 (**) --
4. Ethicality 1.68 .93 .34 (**) .41 (**) .56 (**)
5. Moral issue 1.78 1.05 .14 (*) .26 (**) .26 (**)

 Variable 4 5

1. Concentration of effect
2. Probability of effect
3. Proximity
4. Ethicality --
5. Moral issue -.35 (**) --

Note: N=339


Table 2

Regression Results for Ethicality

Scenario Orientation - Self

Control Variable Independent Variables Beta t p

Moral Issue .376 4.95 .000
 Concentration of Effect .006 .071 .943
 Probability of Effect .118 1.236 .209
 Proximity .388 4.408 .000

F(4, 106) = 29.19, p<.00

Control Variable [R.sup.2]

Moral Issue .35

F(4, 106) = 29.19, p<.00

Scenario Orientation - Other

Control Variable Independent Variables Beta t p

Moral Issue .183 2.374 .019
 Concentration of Effect .107 1.137 .258
 Probability of Effect .067 .687 .4994
 Proximity .464 5.030 .000
F(4, 106)=17.05. p<.00

Control Variable [R.sup.2]

Moral Issue .10

F(4, 106)=17.05. p<.00 .40

Scenario Orientation - Organization

Control Variable Independent Variables Beta t p

Moral Issue .158 1.792 .076
 Concentration of Effect .103 .818 .4153
 Probability of Effect -.012 -.103 .9185
 Proximity .324 3.147 .002
F(4, 106) = 6.11, p<.00

Control Variable [R.sup.2]

Moral Issue .04

F(4, 106) = 6.11, p<.00 .19

(*.) The authors would like to tan Jim Hoffman and Kelly Zellars for their assistance in this project.


Akaah, I. P. 1997. "Influence of Deontological and Teleological Factors on Research Ethics Evaluations." Journal of Business Research 39: 71-80.

Beauchamp, T. L. and N. E. Bowie. 1979. Ethical Theory and Business. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Blasi, A. 1980. "Bridging Moral Cognitions and Moral Action: A Critical Review of the Literature." Psychological Bulletin 88: 1-45.

Cavanagh, G., D. Moberg and M. Velasquez. 1981. "The Ethics of Organizational Politics." Academy of Management Review 6: 363-374.

Cole, D., M. J. Sirgy and M. M. Bird. 2000. "How Do Managers Make Teleological Evaluations in Ethical Dilemmas? Testing Part of and Extending the Hunt-Vitell Model." Journal of Business Ethics 26(3): 259-269.

Davis, K. and W. C. Frederick. 1984. Business and Society: Management, Public Policy, Ethics, 5th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Davis, M. A., N. B. Johnson and D. G. Ohmer. 1998. "Issue-contingent Effects on Ethical Decision Making: A Cross-cultural Comparison." Journal of Business Ethics 17: 373-389.

De George, R. T. 1986. Business Ethics. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing.

Dubinsky, A. J. and B. Loken. 1989. "Analyzing Ethical Decision Making in Marketing." Journal of Business Research 19: 83-107.

Ferrell, O. C. and L. G. Gresham. 1985. "A Contingency Framework for Understanding Ethical Decision Making in Marketing." Journal of Marketing 49: 87-96.

Ferris, G. R., J. H. Dulebohn, D. D. Frink, J. George-Falvy, T. R. Mitchell and L. M. Matthews. 1997. "Job and Organizational Characteristics, Accountability, and Employee Influence." Journal of Managerial Issues 9: 162-175.

Ford, R. C. and W. D. Richardson. 1994. "Ethical Decision Making: A Review of the Empirical Literature." Journal of Business Ethics 13: 205-221.

Fraedrich, J., D. M. Thorne and O. C. Ferrell. 1994. "Assessing the Application of Cognitive Moral Development Theory to Business Ethics." Journal of Business Ethics 13: 829-838.

Frederickson, J. W. and T. R Mitchell. 1984. "Strategic Decision Processes: Comprehensiveness and Performance in an Industry with an Unstable Environment." Academy of Management Journal 27: 399-423.

Fried, C. 1976. "The Lawyer as Friend: The Moral Foundation of the Lawyer-Client Relations." Yale Law Journal 85: 1061-1091.

Fritzsche, D. J. 1995. "Personal Values: Potential Keys to Ethical Decision Making." Journal of Business Ethics 14: 909-922.

Harrington, S. J. 1997. "A Test of a Person-Issue Contingent Model of Ethical Decision Making in Organizations." Journal of Business Ethics 16: 363-375.

Hartman, S.J. and B. H. Nelson. 1996. "Group Decision Making in the Negative Domain." Group and Organization Management 21: 146-154.

Herndon, N. C. 1996. "A New Context for Ethics Education Objectives in a College of Business: Ethical Decision-making Models." Journal of Business Ethics 15: 501-510.

Hunt, S. D. and S. A. Vitell. 1986. "General Theory of Marketing Ethics." Journal of Macromarketing 6: 5-16.

James, L. R. and J. M. Brett. 1984. "Mediators, Moderators, and Tests for Mediation." Journal of Applied Psychology 69: 307-321.

Jones, S. K. and K. M. Hiltebeitel. 1995. "Organizational Influence in a Model of the Moral Decision Process of Accountants." Journal of Business Ethics 14(6):417-31.

Jones, T. M. 1991. "Ethical Decision Making by Individuals in Organizations: An Issue-Contingent Model." Academy of Management Review 16: 366-395.

Kohlberg, L. 1969. "Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization." In Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Ed. D. A. Goslin. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

_____ 1981. Essays on Moral Development. Volume 1: The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.

Kray, L.J. 2000. "Contingent Weighting in Self-Other Decision Making." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 83(1): 82-106.

Low, T. W., L. Ferrell and P. Mansfield. 2000. "A Review of Empirical Studies Assessing Ethical Decision Making in Business." Journal of Business Ethics 25(3):185-204.

Lysonski, S. and W. Gaidis. 1991. "A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Ethics of Business Students." Journal of Business Ethics 10(2): 141-150.

Marshall, B. and P. Dewe. 1997. "An Investigation of the Components of Moral Intensity." Journal of Business Ethics 16: 521-530.

Milgram, S. 1974. Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Morris, S. A. and R A. McDonald. 1995. "The Role of Moral Intensity in Moral Judgments: An Empirical Investigation." Journal of Business Ethics 14: 715-726.

Musser, S.J. and E. A. Orke. 1992. "Ethical Values Systems: A Typology." Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 28: 348-362.

Niehoff, B. P., R.J. Paul and J. F. S. Bunch. 1998. "The Social Effects of Punishment Events: The Influence of Violator Past Performance Record and Severity of the Punishment on Observers' Justice Perceptions and Attitudes." Journal of Organizational Behavior 19: 589-602.

Parket, I. Robert. 1974. Statistics for Business Decision Making. New York, NY: Random House.

Rawls, J. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rest, J. R. 1986. Moral Development: Advances in Research and Theory. New York, NY: Praeger.

Robin, D. P., R. E. Reidenbach and P. J. Forrest. 1996. "The Perceived Importance of an Ethical Issue as an Influence on the Ethical Decision-making of Ad Managers.,, Journal of Business Research 35: 17-28.

Rokeach, M. 1968. Beliefs, Attitudes and Values: A Theory of Organization and Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

_____. 1973. The Nature of Human Values. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Singer, M. S. 1999. "The Role of Concern for Others and Moral Intensity in Adolescents' Ethicality Judgments." The Journal of Genetic Psychology 160: 155-166.

_____ and A. E. Singer. 1997. "Observer Judgements about Moral Agents' Ethical Decisions: The Role of Scope of Justice and Moral Intensity." Journal of Business Ethics 16: 473-484.

_____, S. Mitchell and J. Turner. 1998. "Considerations of Moral Intensity in Ethicality Judgements: Its Relationship with Whistle-Blowing and Need-for-Cognition." Journal of Business Ethics 17: 527-541.

Singhapakdi, A., S.J. Vitell and G. R. Franke. 1999. "Antecedents, Consequences, and Mediating Effects of Perceived Moral Intensity and Personal Moral Philosophies." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 27: 19-36.

_____, _____ and K. L. Kraft. 1996. "Moral Intensity and Ethical Decision-making of Marketing Professionals." Journal of Business Research 36: 245- 255.

Soutar, G. N., M. McNeil and C. Molster. 1995. "A Management Perspective on Business Ethics." Journal of Business Ethics 14(8): 603-611.

Staw, B. M. 1975. "Attribution of the Causes of Performance: A General Alternative Interpretation of Cross-sectional Research on Organizations." Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 13: 414-432.

Trevino, L. K. 1986. "Ethical Decision Making in Organizations: A Person-Situation Interactionist Model." Academy of Management Review 11: 601-617.

Verbeke, W. C. Ouwerkerk and E. Peelen. 1996. "Exploring the Contextual and Individual Factors on Ethical Decision Making of Salespeople." Journal of Business Ethics 15(11): 1175-1187.

Watson, G. W., J. M. Shepard and C. U. Stephens. 1999. "Fairness and Ideology: An Empirical Test of Social Contracts Theory." Business and Society 38: 83-108.

Weber, J. 1990. "Managers' Moral Reasoning: Assessing Their Responses to Three Moral Dilemmas." Human Relations 43: 687-702.

_____. 1996. "Influences upon Managerial Moral Decision Making: Nature of the Harm and Magnitude of Consequences." Human Relations 49: 1-22.

Wimalasiri, J. S., F. Pavri and A. A. K. Jalil. 1996. "An Empirical Study of Moral Reasoning among Managers in Singapore." Journal of Business Ethics 15(12): 1331-1341.

Wyld, D. C. and C. A. Jones. 1997. "The Importance of Context: The Ethical Work Climate Construct and Models of Ethical Decision Making: An Agenda for Research." Journal of Business Ethics 16: 465-472.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Pittsburg State University - Department of Economics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Carlson, Dawn S.; Kacmar, K. Michele; Wadsworth, Lori L.
Publication:Journal of Managerial Issues
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Previous Article:Selecting Employees For Fit: Personality And Preferred Managerial Style.
Next Article:The impact of forced CEO turnover on committee structure.

Related Articles
The relationship of age, gender, experience and awareness of written ethics policies to business decision making.
Developing corporate codes of ethics in multinational firms: Bhopal revisited.
Environmental ethics across borders: the United States versus Ecuador.
On the relationship between DSS design characteristics and ethical decision making.
An exploratory investigation into the effects of team composition on moral orientation.
Software piracy and ethical decision making behavior of Chinese consumers.
Investigating unethical decisions at work: justification and emotion in dilemma resolution.
Psychic distance, its impact and coping modes: interpretations of SME decision makers.
Differences between work-related ethics and non-work ethics, and the effects of religiosity.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |