Journal of Business Ethics 115 (1):93-100 (2013)

Abstract
We studied the role of social dynamics in moral decision-making and behavior by investigating how physical sensations of dirtiness versus cleanliness influence moral behavior in leader–subordinate relationships, and whether a leader’s self-interest functions as a boundary condition to this effect. A pilot study revealed that when participants imagined rewarding unethical behavior of a subordinate, they felt more dirty. Our main experiment showed that directly manipulating dirtiness by allowing leaders to touch a dirty object led to more positive evaluations of, and higher bonuses for, unethical subordinates than touching a clean object. This effect, however, only emerged when the subordinate’s unethical behavior did not serve the leader’s own interest. Hence, subtle cues such as bodily sensations can shape moral decision-making and behavior in leader–subordinate relationships, but self-interest, as a core characteristic of interdependence, can override the influence of such cues on the leader’s moral behavior.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1385-4
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