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Unable to resist temptation: How self-control depletion promotes unethical behavior

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  • Gino, Francesca
  • Schweitzer, Maurice E.
  • Mead, Nicole L.
  • Ariely, Dan
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    Abstract

    Across four experimental studies, individuals who were depleted of their self-regulatory resources by an initial act of self-control were more likely to "impulsively cheat" than individuals whose self-regulatory resources were intact. Our results demonstrate that individuals depleted of self-control resources were more likely to behave dishonestly (Study 1). Depletion reduced people's moral awareness when they faced the opportunity to cheat, which, in turn, was responsible for heightened cheating (Study 2). Individuals high in moral identity, however, did not show elevated levels of cheating when they were depleted (Study 3), supporting our hypothesis that self-control depletion increases cheating when it robs people of the executive resources necessary to identify an act as immoral or unethical. Our results also show that resisting unethical behavior both requires and depletes self-control resources (Study 4). Taken together, our findings help to explain how otherwise ethical individuals predictably engage in unethical behavior.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

    Volume (Year): 115 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 2 (July)
    Pages: 191-203

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:115:y:2011:i:2:p:191-203

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/obhdp

    Related research

    Keywords: Impulsive cheating Unethical behavior Ego depletion Dishonesty Self-control Self-regulatory resources Moral identity Ethical decision making;

    References

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    1. Kathleen D. Vohs & Ronald J. Faber, 2007. "Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(4), pages 537-547, 01.
    2. Maurice Schweitzer & Donald Gibson, 2008. "Fairness, Feelings, and Ethical Decision- Making: Consequences of Violating Community Standards of Fairness," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 77(3), pages 287-301, February.
    3. Mead, N.L. & Baumeister, R.F. & Gino, F. & Schweitzer, M.E. & Ariely, D., 2009. "Too tired to tell the truth: Self-control resource depletion and dishonesty," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-3557352, Tilburg University.
    4. Gino, Francesca & Pierce, Lamar, 2009. "The abundance effect: Unethical behavior in the presence of wealth," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 142-155, July.
    5. Loewenstein, George, 1996. "Out of Control: Visceral Influences on Behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 272-292, March.
    6. Street, Marc D. & Douglas, Scott C. & Geiger, Scott W. & Martinko, Mark J., 2001. "The Impact of Cognitive Expenditure on the Ethical Decision-Making Process: The Cognitive Elaboration Model," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 86(2), pages 256-277, November.
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    Cited by:
    1. Welsh, David T. & Ordóñez, Lisa D., 2014. "The dark side of consecutive high performance goals: Linking goal setting, depletion, and unethical behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 123(2), pages 79-89.
    2. Paharia, Neeru & Vohs, Kathleen D. & Deshpandé, Rohit, 2013. "Sweatshop labor is wrong unless the shoes are cute: Cognition can both help and hurt moral motivated reasoning," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 81-88.
    3. Gino, Francesca & Ayal, Shahar & Ariely, Dan, 2013. "Self-serving altruism? The lure of unethical actions that benefit others," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 285-292.
    4. Gill, David & Prowse, Victoria & Vlassopoulos, Michael, 2013. "Cheating in the workplace: An experimental study of the impact of bonuses and productivity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 120-134.
    5. Lanaj, Klodiana & Johnson, Russell E. & Barnes, Christopher M., 2014. "Beginning the workday yet already depleted? Consequences of late-night smartphone use and sleep," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 124(1), pages 11-23.
    6. Pitesa, Marko & Thau, Stefan & Pillutla, Madan M., 2013. "Cognitive control and socially desirable behavior: The role of interpersonal impact," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 122(2), pages 232-243.
    7. Hershfield, Hal E. & Cohen, Taya R. & Thompson, Leigh, 2012. "Short horizons and tempting situations: Lack of continuity to our future selves leads to unethical decision making and behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 117(2), pages 298-310.
    8. Gneezy, Uri & Rockenbach, Bettina & Serra-Garcia, Marta, 2013. "Measuring lying aversion," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 293-300.

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