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

  • Gino, Francesca
  • Schweitzer, Maurice E.
  • Mead, Nicole L.
  • Ariely, Dan
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    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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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749597811000422
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    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
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/obhdp

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    1. 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," Other publications TiSEM c60167a3-c3aa-4b83-9192-1, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    2. 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.
    3. Loewenstein, George, 1996. "Out of Control: Visceral Influences on Behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 272-292, March.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
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