Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 110, Issue 3, pp 355–376

Moral Reasoning in Computer-Based Task Environments: Exploring the Interplay between Cognitive and Technological Factors on Individuals’ Propensity to Break Rules


DOI: 10.1007/s10551-011-1196-z

Cite this article as:
Roberts, J.A. & Wasieleski, D.M. J Bus Ethics (2012) 110: 355. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-1196-z


This study examines the relationship between cognitive moral development (CMD), productivity features of information technology (IT) and unethical behavior or misconduct. Using an experimental design that randomly assigns subjects to one of four unique technology conditions, we assess the relationship between a subjects’ predominant level of CMD and ethical misconduct on IT-oriented work tasks. Our results show that both higher levels of CMD and increased levels of IT productivity features at one’s disposal have a significant role to play in explaining observed behavior in our sample. We find that CMD as measured by the Defining Issues Test’s P-score is negatively related to task misconduct. Conversely, IT productivity features such as copy-and-paste are positively related to task misconduct. In addition, the CMD—misconduct relationship is significantly diminished by the introduction of IT productivity features. Lastly, a series of hazard analyses are conducted to explore the boundaries of our principal findings. These results demonstrate the significant role of technology in enabling negative behavior and the relative inability of subjects’ use of principled moral reasoning to overcome it. Implications of these findings for academics and business managers are offered, as well as recommendations for mitigating misconduct in both academic and workplace environments.


Cognitive moral developmentDefining issues testEthical decision-makingInformation technologyRule violations



Information and communication technologies


Information technology


Construal level theory


Cognitive moral development


Computer-mediated communication


Technology condition


Technology experimental condition—control group with access to no IT productivity features


Technology experimental condition—search only


Technology experimental condition—copy-and-paste only


Technology experimental condition—both copy-and-paste and search


Time in minutes spent completing the experiment exercise


Number of words contained in a submitted response document


Average score on the technology assessment instrument


Similarity index group membership indicator variable. A dichotomy indicating whether or not the similarity index for a subject’s response document is greater than or equal to the group membership cutoff value. Where cutoff values range from 0 to 50 by 5 percentage point increments


Person–situation interactionist perspective


An indicator variable designating whether a subject was in any three of the technology experimental conditions TCs, TCcp, or TCcps

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Duquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Cerefige-ICN Business SchoolNancyFrance