Journal of Business Ethics 136 (1):13-22 (2016)
AbstractWe theorize that victim anonymity is an important factor in ethical decision making, such that actors engage in more self-interested and unethical behaviors toward anonymous victims than they do toward identifiable victims. Three experiments provided empirical support for this argument. In Study 1, participants withheld more life-saving products from anonymous than from identifiable victims. In Study 2, participants allocated a sum of payment more unfairly when interacting with an anonymous than with an identifiable partner. Finally, in Study 3, participants cheated more from an anonymous than from an identifiable person. Anticipated guilt fully mediated these effects in all three studies. Taken together, our research suggests that anonymous victims may be more likely to incur unethical treatment, which could explain many unethical business behaviors.
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