Good Without Knowing it: Subtle Contextual Cues can Activate Moral Identity and Reshape Moral Intuition

Journal of Business Ethics 137 (4):785-800 (2016)
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Abstract

The role of moral intuition has been increasingly implicated in business decisions and ethical business behavior. But troublingly, because implicit processes often operate outside of conscious awareness, decision makers are generally unaware of their influence. We tested whether subtle contextual cues for identity can alter implicit beliefs. In two studies, we found that contextual cues which nonconsciously prime moral identity weaken the implicit association between the categories of “business” and “ethical,” an implicit association which has previously been linked to unethical decision making. Further, changes in this implicit association mediated the relationship between contextually primed moral identity and concern for external stakeholder groups, regardless of self-reported moral identity. Thus, our results show that subtle contextual cues can lead individuals to render more ethical judgments, by automatically restructuring moral intuition below the level of consciousness.

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