The slippery slope: How small ethical transgressions pave the way for larger future transgressions

David Welsh, Lisa D. Ordóñez, Deirdre G. Snyder, Michael S. Christian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

66 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Many recent corporate scandals have been described as resulting from a slippery slope in which a series of small infractions gradually increased over time (e.g., McLean & Elkind, 2003). However, behavioral ethics research has rarely considered how unethical behavior unfolds over time. In this study, we draw on theories of self-regulation to examine whether individuals engage in a slippery slope of increasingly unethical behavior. First, we extend Bandura's (1991, 1999) social-cognitive theory by demonstrating how the mechanism of moral disengagement can reduce ethicality over a series of gradually increasing indiscretions. Second, we draw from recent research connecting regulatory focus theory and behavioral ethics (Gino & Margolis, 2011) to demonstrate that inducing a prevention focus moderates this mediated relationship by reducing one's propensity to slide down the slippery slope. We find support for the developed model across 4 multiround studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-127
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Volume100
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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Ethics
Behavioral Research
Research
Social Theory
Self-Control

Keywords

  • Behavioral ethics
  • Moral disengagement
  • Regulatory focus
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology

Cite this

The slippery slope : How small ethical transgressions pave the way for larger future transgressions. / Welsh, David; Ordóñez, Lisa D.; Snyder, Deirdre G.; Christian, Michael S.

In: Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 100, No. 1, 2015, p. 114-127.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Welsh, David ; Ordóñez, Lisa D. ; Snyder, Deirdre G. ; Christian, Michael S. / The slippery slope : How small ethical transgressions pave the way for larger future transgressions. In: Journal of Applied Psychology. 2015 ; Vol. 100, No. 1. pp. 114-127.
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