, 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

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Abstract

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.