The effects of escalating commitment on ethical decision-making

Journal of Business Ethics 64 (4):343 - 356 (2006)
Although scholars have invoked the escalation framework as a means of explaining the occurrence of numerous organizationally undesirable behaviors on the part of decision makers, to date no empirical research on the potential influences of escalating commitment on the likelihood of unethical behavior at the individual level of analysis has been reported in either the escalation or the ethical decision-making literatures. Thus, the main purpose of this project is to provide a theoretical foundation and empirical support for the contention that escalating commitment situations can induce unethical behavior in decision makers. An experimental research design utilizing a computerized investment task was administered to 155 undergraduate business majors as a means of assessing the hypotheses presented here. Results from a hierarchical logistic regression analysis found strong support for the contention that exposure to an escalation situation increases the likelihood of unethical behavior on the part of decision makers. Further, results also supported previous ethical decision-making findings by confirming the effects of locus of control (LOC) on ethical behavior. Specifically, the data indicated that individuals with an external LOC orientation were significantly more likely to select the unethical option than were individuals with an internal LOC orientation. Interestingly, support was not found for the effects of Machiavellianism or gender on ethical decision-making.
Keywords ethical decision-making  escalating commitment  Machiavellianism  gender  locus of control
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