Actual and perceived sharing of ethical reasoning and moral intent among in-group and out-group members

Journal of Business Ethics 33 (4):299 - 322 (2001)
Abstract
Despite an extensive amount of research studying the influence of significant others on an individual's ethical behavior, researchers have not examined this variable in the context of organizational group boundaries. This study tests actual and perceptual sharing and variation in ethical reasoning and moral intent within and across functional groups in an organization. Integrating theory on ethical behavior, group dynamics, and culture, it is proposed that organizational structure affects cognitive structure. Departmental boundaries create stronger social ties within the group as well as intergroup biases between the groups. Thus individuals will be more likely to share in ethical reasoning and moral intent with members of their own functional group (in-group) than with members of other functional groups (out-group). Additionally, they will perceive that they are more likely to share in ethical reasoning and moral intent with in-group members than with out-group members. Responding to two versions of two ethical scenarios, respondents contrasted their own ethical behavior to their expected ethical behavior of in-group and out-group members. Empirical results confirmed the hypotheses. Organizational group boundaries create actual as well as perceptual sharing and variation in ethical reasoning and moral intent. Furthermore, when comparing perceptual sharing to actual sharing, results show that individuals understate their sharing of ethical reasoning and moral intent with out-group members and overstate their sharing with in-group members. As organizational boundaries can create actual and perceived differences between groups that could lead to inter-group conflict, suggestions for management focus on removing or blurring inter-group boundaries.
Keywords ethical reasoning  functional groups  in-group  intergroup bias  moral intent  out-group  significant others
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