Effects of the Use of the Availability Heuristic on Ethical Decision-Making in Organizations

Journal of Business Ethics 84 (S1):151 - 165 (2009)
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Abstract

Recent corporate scandals across various industries have led to an increased focus on research in business ethics, particularly on understanding ethical decision-making. This increased interest is due largely to managers' desire to reduce the incidence of unwanted behaviors in the workplace. This article examines one major moderator of the ethical decision-making process - moral intensity. In particular, we explore the potential influence of a particular cognitive heuristic - the availability heuristic -on perceptions of moral intensity. It is our contention that moral intensity is a perceptual construct, and that individuals' use of the availability heuristic will influence perceptions of moral intensity which, in turn, will affect how moral issues are viewed and ultimately resolved. In this article, we present propositions concerning possible relationships between the availabilities of various phenomena and the components that moral intensity comprises, and report on two studies examining the effects of availabilities on two of these components: magnitude of consequences and social consensus. Our findings indicated that the availability of consequences associated with an act was positively related to perceptions of the magnitude of consequences of that act. We also found that the availability of others who believe that a particular act is morally acceptable is positively related to perceptions of social consensus that that act is morally acceptable. We posit that our results suggest the possibility that perceptions of moral intensity can be actively influenced to reduce unethical behavior in organizations

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