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An Examination of the Contribution of Dispositional Affect on Ethical Lapses


  • D. Lowe


  • Philip Reckers



The popular press and academic research has focused primarily on the characteristics of corporate leaders. Subordinates have been studied much less frequently than leaders and yet they play a pivotal role in destructive leadership processes. An area holding significant potential to bring clarity to subordinates’ ability to withstand (or succumb) to pressures from superiors is dispositional affect. In our exploratory study, we examine how specific affective states influence subordinates’ unethical behavior. We performed an experiment with 63 mid-level managers having significant work experience. Participants were given ethical scenarios and asked to assess their intentions to comply with their superiors’ requests to engage in unethical conduct. The participants also completed the positive affect negative affect schedule (PANAS) which provides measures of affective states. Our results provide support for theory-based predictions. The findings of our study make important contributions and have implications to both practice and theory. First, we identify certain affective states that encourage subordinates to adopt the behavior of a conformer or colluder and thus be susceptible to their superiors’ unethical directives. Second, our results suggest the need for training programs to assist employees in managing affect in the work place and consideration of organizational changes that provide a culture of empowerment of its employees. Third, unlike a large majority of prior research, we measured naturally occurring affective states rather than providing a contrived (and potentially exaggerated) triggering event to elicit affective states. Fourth, we examined specific affective states rather than examining only general positive and negative valence categories. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • D. Lowe & Philip Reckers, 2012. "An Examination of the Contribution of Dispositional Affect on Ethical Lapses," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(2), pages 179-193, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:2:p:179-193
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-011-1200-7

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clive Boddy & Richard Ladyshewsky & Peter Galvin, 2010. "The Influence of Corporate Psychopaths on Corporate Social Responsibility and Organizational Commitment to Employees," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 97(1), pages 1-19, November.
    2. Robert Libby & James E. Hunton & Hun-Tong Tan & Nicholas Seybert, 2008. "Relationship Incentives and the Optimistic/Pessimistic Pattern in Analysts' Forecasts," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 173-198, March.
    3. Joel Amernic & Russell Craig, 2010. "Accounting as a Facilitator of Extreme Narcissism," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 96(1), pages 79-93, September.
    4. Dennis Duchon & Brian Drake, 2009. "Organizational Narcissism and Virtuous Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 85(3), pages 301-308, March.
    5. Lord, Alan T. & Todd DeZoort, F., 2001. "The impact of commitment and moral reasoning on auditors' responses to social influence pressure," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 215-235, April.
    6. Kimberly Moreno, 2002. "The Impact of Affective Reactions on Risky Decision Making in Accounting Contexts," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(5), pages 1331-1349, December.
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