How Perpetrator Gender Influences Reactions to Premeditated Versus Impulsive Unethical Behavior: A Role Congruity Approach

  • Ke Michael MaiEmail author
  • Aleksander P. J. Ellis
  • David T. Welsh
Original Paper


A significant body of research has emerged in order to better understand unethical behavior at work and how gender plays a role in the process. In this study, we look to add to this literature by exploring how perpetrator gender influences reactions to distinct types of unethicality. Rather than viewing unethical behavior as a unitary construct, where all forms of lying, cheating, and stealing are the same, we integrate theories and concepts from the criminal justice and moral psychology literatures to categorize certain unethical behaviors as either impulsive or premeditated. Given the agentic nature of premeditated unethical behavior, we draw from role congruity theory to predict that women will be punished more severely than men for their role incongruous actions. Impulsive unethical behavior, on the other hand, will be less likely to elicit perceptions of congruity or incongruity, leading to less of a gender effect. Results from three studies sampling both undergraduates and working adults in the United States, Singapore, and South Korea showed that participants were more likely to associate premeditated unethical behavior with a male perpetrator because it was seen as less feminine (Study 1), and female perpetrators who engaged in premeditated unethical behavior received more severe punishment than male perpetrators due to the perceived role incongruity of their actions (Study 2 and Study 3). Implications are discussed as well as possible limitations and directions for future research.


Unethical behavior Premeditation Gender Role congruence 



This study was funded by Center for Leadership Ethics at the University of Arizona to the first author.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies were in accordance with the approved procedures and ethical standards of the Institutional Internal Review Board (IRB) at the University of Arizona.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study from the Institutional Internal Review Board (IRB) approved procedures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ke Michael Mai
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aleksander P. J. Ellis
    • 2
  • David T. Welsh
    • 3
  1. 1.NUS Business SchoolNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.The Eller College of ManagementThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.W. P. Carey School of BusinessArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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