"Care Enough to Cheat? How Lay Beliefs of Self-Mastery Guide Unethical Behavior"
Publication type: Working paper
Research Archive Topic: Marketing
Prior research suggests that a belief in determinism has a downside in that it leads to unethical behavior, and contends that a belief in free will can serve as a safeguard against immorality. We hypothesize that the relationship between these beliefs and ethical behavior or cheating is moderated by the salience of the outcome. We focus on self-mastery beliefs and suggest that when the outcome is not very salient, people focus on the process of decision-making. Those who strongly believe in self-mastery take personal responsibility for the process and hence behave ethically. Those who believe less in self-mastery take less personal responsibility for the process and hence tend to behave less ethically. However, when the outcome is very salient, then the focus shifts from the process of achieving a goal to the outcome itself. In this case, those with high self-mastery are likely to cheat in order to achieve their goal and protect their self-esteem. On the other hand, those with low self-mastery are likely to blame the situation and hence protect their self-esteem without resorting to cheating. Three studies that measure as well as manipulate self-mastery provide support for this line of reasoning.
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