Chapter | Research in Organizational Behavior | 2010

The Ethical Mirage: A Temporal Explanation as to Why We Are Not as Ethical as We Think We Are

by A. E. Tenbrunsel, K. A. Diekmann, K. A. Wade-Benzoni and M. H. Bazerman

Abstract

This paper explores the biased perceptions that people hold of their own ethicality. We argue that the temporal trichotomy of prediction, action and recollection is central to these misperceptions: People predict that they will behave more ethically than they actually do, and when evaluating past (un)ethical behavior, they believe they behaved more ethically than they actually did. We use the "want/should" theoretical framework to explain the bounded ethicality that arises from these temporal inconsistencies, positing that the "should" self dominates during the prediction and recollection phases but that the "want" self is dominant during the critical action phase. We draw on the research on behavioral forecasting, ethical fading, and cognitive distortions to gain insight into the forces driving these faulty perceptions and, noting how these misperceptions can lead to continued unethical behavior, we provide recommendations for how to reduce them. We also include a call for future research to better understand this phenomenon.

Keywords: Forecasting and Prediction; Values and Beliefs; Framework; Research; Behavior; Cognition and Thinking; Perception; Prejudice and Bias;

Citation:

Tenbrunsel, A. E., K. A. Diekmann, K. A. Wade-Benzoni, and M. H. Bazerman. "The Ethical Mirage: A Temporal Explanation as to Why We Are Not as Ethical as We Think We Are." In Research in Organizational Behavior. Vol. 30 edited by B. Staw and A. P. Brief, 153–173. Elsevier, 2010.