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Short horizons and tempting situations: Lack of continuity to our future selves leads to unethical decision making and behavior

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  • Hershfield, Hal E.
  • Cohen, Taya R.
  • Thompson, Leigh

Abstract

People who feel continuity with their future selves are more likely to behave in ethically responsible ways as compared to people who lack continuity with their future selves. We find that individual differences in perceived similarity to one’s future self predicts tolerance of unethical business decisions (Studies 1a and 1b), and that the consideration of future consequences mediates the extent to which people regard inappropriate negotiation strategies as unethical (Study 2). We reveal that low future self-continuity predicts unethical behavior in the form of lies, false promises, and cheating (Studies 3 and 4), and that these relationships hold when controlling for general personality dimensions and trait levels of self-control (Study 4). Finally, we establish a causal relationship between future self-continuity and ethical judgments by showing that when people are prompted to focus on their future self (as opposed to the future), they express more disapproval of unethical behavior (Study 5).

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:117:y:2012:i:2:p:298-310
    DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.11.002
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Loewenstein, George, 1996. "Out of Control: Visceral Influences on Behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 272-292, March.
    2. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1209-1248.
    3. Thaler, Richard H & Shefrin, H M, 1981. "An Economic Theory of Self-Control," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(2), pages 392-406, April.
    4. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
    5. 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.
    6. Schelling, Thomas C, 1984. "Self-Command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 1-11, May.
    7. Gino, Francesca & Schweitzer, Maurice E. & Mead, Nicole L. & Ariely, Dan, 2011. "Unable to resist temptation: How self-control depletion promotes unethical behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 191-203, July.
    8. Hal Ersner-Hershfield & M. Tess Garton & Kacey Ballard & Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin & Brian Knutson, 2009. "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self-continuity account for saving," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 4(4), pages 280-286, June.
    9. Barnes, Christopher M. & Schaubroeck, John & Huth, Megan & Ghumman, Sonia, 2011. "Lack of sleep and unethical conduct," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 169-180, July.
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    1. repec:eee:advacc:v:38:y:2017:i:c:p:106-112 is not listed on IDEAS

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