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.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
The research and information skills course covered the following 5 one-hour modules ending the week prior to our data collection. Information Ethics: Citing and Avoiding Plagiarism, Using Books for Research, Using Articles for Research (1), Using Articles for Research (2), Citing Tips and Tools, and Information Ethics: Copyright, Fair Use.
For WCopyFind, the size of the word phrase is configurable parameter and was set to the control document’s average sentence length measured in words.
In a semi-logarithmic regression equation, the percentage impact of a dichotomous variable coefficient on the dependent variable is calculated as 100 (eβ − 1) (Halvorsen and Palmquist 1980).
We selected the 50 cutoff as a reasonable value where most people would feel a certain level of unease with integrity of the submission. Recall that a similarity index of 50 means that 50% of the content of response document is copied from the control document.
Information and communication technologies
Construal level theory
Cognitive moral development
- TC0 :
Technology experimental condition—control group with access to no IT productivity features
- TCs :
Technology experimental condition—search only
- TCcp :
Technology experimental condition—copy-and-paste only
- TCcps :
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
Anandarajan, M. (2002). Internet abuse in the workplace. Communications of ACM, 45(1), 53–54.
Andreoli, N., & Lefkowitz, J. (2009). Individual and organizational antecedents of misconduct in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(3), 309.
Atmeh, M., & Al-Khadash, H. (2008). Factors affecting cheating behavior among accounting students. Journal of Accounting, Business & Management, 15(1), 109–125.
Auer, N. J., & Krupar, E. M. (2001). Mouse click plagiarism: The role of technology in plagiarism and the librarian’s role in combating it. Library Trends, 49(3), 415–432.
Baldwin, D. C. J., Daugherty, S. R., Rowley, B. D., & Schwarz, M. D. (1996). Cheating in medical school: A survey of second-year students at 31 schools. Academic Medicine, 71(3), 267–273.
Baumeister, R., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. (2000). Ego depletion: A resource model of volition, self-regulation, and controlled processing. Social Cognition, 18(2), 130.
Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2004). Sexual economics: Sex as female resource for social exchange in heterosexual interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(4), 339.
Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., & Tice, D. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(6), 351.
Bequai, A. (1998). Employee abuses in cyberspace: Management’s legal quagmire. Computers & Society, 17, 667–670.
Bettman, J. R., Luce, M. F., & Payne, J. W. (1998). Constructive consumer choice processes. Journal of Consumer Research, 25, 187–217.
Blasi, A. (1980). Bridging moral cognition and moral action: A critical review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 88(1), 1–45.
Bloomfield, L.A. (2010). The plagiarism resource site windows software page. Retrieved 16 June 2010, http://plagiarism.phys.virginia.edu/Wsoftware.html.
Bolin, A. U. (2004). Self-control, perceived opportunity, and attitudes as predictors of academic dishonesty. The Journal of Psychology, 138(2), 101.
Brambor, T., Clark, W. R., & Golder, M. (2006). Understanding interaction models: Improving empirical analyses. Political Analysis, 14(1), 63–82.
Brinkman, R. L., & Brinkman, J. E. (1997). Cultural lag: Conception and theory. International Journal of Social Economics, 24(6), 609.
Bunz, U. (2004). The computer-email-web (CEW) fluency scale–development and validation. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 17(4), 479.
Campbell, S. (2010). An investigation of the determinants of employees’ decisions to use organizational computing resources for non-work purposes. Dissertation 3412543, 178 pp. The University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M., & Wadsworth, L. L. (2002). The impact of moral intensity dimensions on ethical decision making: Assessing the relevance of orientation. Journal of Managerial Issues, 14(1), 15.
Cavusoglu, H., Cavusoglu, H., & Raghunathan, S. (2004). Economics of IT security management: Four improvements to current security practices. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 14, 1.
Celik, C. (2009). Perceptions of University students on academic honesty as related to gender, University type and major in Turkey. Journal of American Academy of Business, 14(2), 271–278.
Chatterjee, S. (2008). Unethical behavior using information technology. Dissertation 3370378, 115 pp. Washington State University.
Chester, G. (2001). Plagiarism detection and prevention: JISC. 2011(2/9/2011).
Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (1987). The measurement of moral judgment: Vol. 1. Theoretical foundations and research validations. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Comas-Forgas, R., & Sureda-Negre, J. (2010). Academic plagiarism: Explanatory factors from students’ perspective. Journal of Academic Ethics, 8(3), 217–232.
Crowell, C. R., Narvaez, D., & Gomberg, A. (2005) Moral psychology and information ethics: Psychological distance and the components of moral behavior in a digital world. In L. Freeman & A. G. Peace (Eds.), Information ethics: Privacy and intellectual property, (pp. 19–37). Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.
Doherty, N. F., & Fulford, H. (2005). Do Information security policies reduce the incidence of security breaches: An exploratory analysis. Information Resources Management Journal, 18(4), 21.
Eastin, M. S., Glynn, C. J., & Griffiths, R. P. (2007). Psychology of communication technology use in the workplace. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(3), 436–443.
Edmondson, V. C. (2010). Ethical leadership: The quest for character, civility, and community. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 9(2), 360–371.
Etter, S., Cramer, J. J., & Finn, S. (2006). Origins of academic dishonesty: Ethical orientations and personality factors associated with attitudes about cheating with information technology. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(2), 133.
Eyal, T., Liberman, N., & Trope, Y. (2008). Judging near and distant virtue and vice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 1204–1209.
Fass, R. A. (1990). Cheating and plagiarism: Ethics in higher education. New York: McMillan.
Fitzgerald, M. (2002). A plague of plagiarism. Writer, 115(7), 16.
Friedman, B. (1997). Social judgments and technological innovation: Adolescents’ understanding of property, privacy, and electronic information. Computers in Human Behavior, 13(3), 327–351.
Friedrich, R. J. (1982). In defense of multiplicative terms in multiple regression equations. American Journal of Political Science, 26(4), 797–833.
Fujita, K., Henderson, M. D., Eng, J., Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2006). Spatial distance and mental construal of social events. Psychological science (Wiley-Blackwell), 17(4), 278–282.
Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime (p. 297). Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
Graham, C., Litan, R. E., & Sukhtankar, S. (2002) The bigger they are, the harder they fall: An estimate of the costs of the crisis in corporate governance. The Brookings Institution, (1 February 2006). www.brookings.edu/views/papers/graham/20020722Graham.pdf).
Graves, S. M. (2008). Student cheating habits: A predictor of workplace deviance. Journal of Diversity Management, 3(1), 15–22.
Greenberg, J. (2002). Who stole the money, and when? Individual and situational determinants of employee theft. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89(1), 985.
Halvorsen, R., & Palmquist, R. (1980). The interpretation of dummy variables in semilogarithmic equations. American Economic Review, 70(3), 474.
Hardy, M. A. (1993). Regression with dummy variables (p. 90). Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
Higgins, R., Power, C., & Kohlberg, L.A. (1984). The relationship of moral atmosphere to judgements of responsibility. In W. M. Kurtines, & J. L. Gewirtz (Eds.), Morality, moral behavior, and moral development, (pp. 74-106-425). New York: Wiley.
Hirschi, T., & Gottfredson, M. R. (1994). The generality of deviance (p. 277). New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers.
Hofmann, W., Friese, M., & Roefs, A. (2009). Three ways to resist temptation: The independent contributions of executive attention, inhibitory control, and affect regulation to the impulse control of eating behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 431.
Hunt, S. D., & Vitell, S. J. (1986). A general theory of marketing ethics. Journal of Macromarketing, 6(1), 5.
IDC. (2005). Worldwide security appliance market: forecast and analysis. International Data Corporation, December 2005.
iParadigms, LLC. (2010). Turnitin—originality check. Retrieved 3 June 2010, http://turnitin.com/static/products.html.
Jeyaraj, A., Rottman, J. W., & Lacity, M. C. (2006). A review of the predictors, linkages, and biases in IT innovation adoption research. Journal of Information Technology, 21(1), 1.
Jickling, M. (2010). Causes of the financial crisis, congressional research service: Report 40173. Accessed August 2010. http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/R40173_20100409.pdf.
Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model. Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 366–395.
Kaptein, M., & Schwartz, M. (2008). The effectiveness of business codes: A critical examination of existing studies and the development of an integrated research model. Journal of Business Ethics, 77, 111–127.
Kenrick, D. T., & Funder, D. C. (1988). Profiting from controversy: Lessons from the person-situation debate. American Psychologist, 43(1), 23–34.
Kim, M., Bergman, L., Lau, T., & Notkin, D. (2004). An ethnographic study of copy and paste programming practices in OOPL’, in ISESE ‘04: Proceedings of the 2004 international symposium on empirical software engineering (pp. 83–92). Washington, DC, USA: IEEE Computer Society.
King, P. M., & Mayhew, M. J. (2002). Moral judgement development in higher education: Insights from the defining issues test. Journal of Moral Education, 31(3), 247.
Kisamore, J. L., Stone, T. H., & Jawahar, I. M. (2007). Academic integrity: The relationship between individual and situational factors on misconduct contemplations. Journal of Business Ethics, 75(4), 381–394.
Kish-Gephart, J., Harrison, D. A., & Treviño, L. K. (2010). Bad apples, bad cases, and bad barrels: Meta-analytic evidence about sources of unethical decisions at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 1–31.
Klein, H. A., Levengurg, N. M., McKendall, M., & Mothersell, W. (2007). Cheating during the college years: How do business school students compare? Journal of Business Ethics, 72, 197–206.
Kohlberg, L. (1971). Stage and sequence: The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 347–480). Chicago: Rand McNally.
Kohlberg, L. (1981). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior (pp. 31–53). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Lawson, R. A. (2004). Is classroom cheating related to business students’ propensity to cheat in the “real world”? Journal of Business Ethics, 49(2), 189–199.
Lazonder, A. W., Biemans, H. J. A., & Wopereis, I. G. J. H. (2000). Differences between novice and experienced users in searching information on the world wide web. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51(6), 576–581.
Leedy, P. D., & Ormrod, J. E. (2005). Practical research: Planning and design (8th ed., p. 319). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Lessig, L. (2000). Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.
Lim, V. K. G. (2002). ‘The IT way of loafing on the job: Cyberloafing. Neutralizing and Organizational Justice’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(5), 675–694.
Loch, K. D., & Conger, S. (1996). Evaluating ethical decision making and computer use. Association for computing machinery. Communications of the ACM, 39(7), 74.
Malachowski, D. (2005). Wasted time at work costing companies billions. Salary.com. Accessed April 2011. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/a/2005/07/11/wastingtime.TMP.
Mann, Z. (2006). Three public enemies: Cut, copy, and paste. Computer, 39, 31–35.
Marshall, K. P. (1999). Has technology introduced new ethical problems? Journal of Business Ethics, 19(1), 81.
May, D. R., & Pauli, K. P. (2002). The role of moral intensity in ethical decision making. Business and Society, 41(1), 84.
Mazar, N., & Ariely, D. (2006). Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 25(1), 117–126.
McCabe, D. L., Treviño, L. K., & Butterfield, K. D. (2001). Cheating in academic institutions: A decade of research. Ethics and Behavior, 11(3), 219.
McMahon, J. M., & Harvey, R. J. (2006). An analysis of the factor structure of Jones’ moral intensity construct. Journal of Business Ethics, 64(4), 381.
Meckbach, G. (1998). The secret world of monitoring software. Computing Canada, 24(1), 4.
Misangyi, V. F., Weaver, G. R., & Elms, H. (2008). Ending corruption: The interplay among institutional logics, resources, and institutional entrepreneurs. Academy of Management Review, 33(3), 750–770.
Moore, D. A., & Lowenstein, G. (2004). Self-interest, automaticity, and the psychology of conflict of interest. Social Justice Research, 17, 189–202.
Morris, M. G., Venkatesh, V., & Ackerman, P. L. (2005). Gender and age differences in employee decisions about new technology: An extension to the theory of planned behavior. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 52(1), 69.
Myyry, L., Siponen, M., Pahnila, S., Vartiainen, T., & Vance, A. (2009). What levels of moral reasoning and values explain adherence to information security rules? An empirical study. European Journal of Information Systems, 18(2), 126.
Narvaez, D., & Bock, T. (2002). Moral schemas and tacit judgment or how the defining issues test is supported by cognitive science. Journal of Moral Education, 31(3), 297–314.
NBES. (2009). 2009 NBES (National Business Ethics Survey). Retrieved 12 May 2010, http://www.ethics.org/nbes/download.html.
Needleman, S. E. (2010). A facebook-free workplace? Curbing cyberslacking. Wall Street Journal (Online). Accessed June 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703691804575254443707831052.html.
Nonis, S., & Swift, C. O. (2001). An examination of the relationship between academic dishonesty and workplace dishonesty: A multicampus investigation. Journal of Education for Business, 77(2), 69.
O’Fallon, M. J., & Butterfield, K. D. (2005). A review of the empirical ethical decision-making literature: 1996–2003. Journal of Business Ethics, 59(4), 375–413.
Ogburn, W. F. (1966). Social change with respect to cultural and original nature with a new introd (p. 393). New York: Dell, Pub. Co.
Oh, H., Curley, S. P., & Subramani, M. R. (2008). The death of distance?: The influence of computer mediated communication on perceptions of distance. In International conference on information systems (ICIS).
Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–903.
Postmes, T., & Spears, R. (1998). Deindividuation and antinormative behavior: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 123(3), 238–259.
Renard, L. (1999). Cut and paste 101: Plagiarism and the net. Educational Leadership, 57(4), 38.
Resick, C. J., Harges, P. J., Dickson, M. W., & Mitchelson, J. K. (2006). Cross-cultural examination of the endorsement of ethical leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 63(4), 345–352.
Rest, J. (1979). Development in judging moral issues. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rest, J. (1986). Moral development: Advances in research and theory. New York: Praeger.
Rest, J., Narvaez, D., Bebeau, M., & Thoma, S. (1999a). A Neo-Kohlbergian approach to moral judgment: An overview of defining issues test research. Educational Psychology Review, 11(4), 291–324.
Rest, J. R., Narvaez, D., Thoma, S. J., & Bebeau, M. J. (1999b). DIT2: Devising and testing a revised instrument of moral judgment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(4), 644–659.
Riviere, P. (2010) What’s ours will stay that way. Le Monde Diplomatique (http://mondediplo.com/2010/07/18acta).
Rubin, R. (1994). Moral distancing and the use of information technologies: the seven temptations. In Proceedings of the conference on ethics in the computer age (pp. 151–155). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
Ryan, J. J. (2001). Moral reasoning as a determinant of organizational citizenship behaviors: A study in the public accounting profession. Journal of Business Ethics, 33, 233–244.
Sims, R. L. (1993). The relationship between academic dishonesty and unethical business practices. Journal of Education for Business, 68, 207–211.
Siponen, M., & Vance, A. (2010). Neutralization: New insights into the problem of employee information systems security policy violations. MIS Quarterly, 34(3), 487.
Smith, T. (2000). Challenging academe’s mystique: Applying criminological theories to college student cheating. Ph.D. Dissertation. School of Criminal Justice University at Albany, State University of New York.
Smith, T. R. (2004). Low self-control, staged opportunity, and subsequent fraudulent behavior. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 31(5), 542–563.
Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S. (1986). Reducing social context cues: Electronic mail in organizational communication. Management Science (1986–1998), 32(11), 1492.
Stevens, G. E. (1984). Ethical inclinations of tomorrow’s citizens: Actions speak louder? Journal of Business Education, 59(4), 147–152.
Stolee, K. T., Elbaum, S., & Rothermel, G. (2009). Revealing the copy and paste habits of end users. CSE Conference and Workshop Papers. Paper 133. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cseconfwork/133.
Sussman, S. W., & Sproull, L. (1999). Straight talk: Delivering bad news through electronic communication. Information Systems Research, 10(2), 150.
Swanson, D. (1995). Addressing a theoretical problem by reorienting the corporation. Academy of Management Review, 20(1), 43–65.
Szwajkowski, E. (1992). Accounting for organizational misconduct. Journal of Business Ethics, 11, 401–411.
Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches (p. 185). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.
Tesch, D. B., Murphy, M. C., & Crable, E. A. (2006). Implementation of a basic computer skills assessment mechanism for incoming freshmen. Information Systems Education Journal, 4(13), 1.
Thoma, S. J. (2006). Research using the defining issues test. In Killen and Smetana (Eds.), Handbook of moral psychology. Mawah, NJ: L. Earlbaum.
Tice, D. M., Baumeister, R. F., Shmueli, D., & Muraven, M. (2007). Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following ego depletion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(3), 379.
Treviño, L. K. (1986). Ethical decision-making in organizations: A person-situation interactionist model. Academy of Management Review, 11, 601–617.
Treviño, L. K. (1992). Moral reasoning and business ethics: Implications for research, education and management. Journal of Business Ethics, 11, 445–459.
Treviño, L. K., Weaver, G. R., & Reynolds, S. J. (2006). Behavioral ethics in organizations: A review. Journal of Management, 32(6), 951–990.
Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological Review, 117(2), 440–463.
Veiga, J. F., Golden, T. D., & Dechant, K. (2004). Why managers bend company rules. Academy of Management Executive, 18(2), 84–89.
Venkatraman, S. (2008). The “Darth” side of technology use: Cyberdeviant workplace behaviors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR.
Warming-Rasmussen, B., & Windsor, C. A. (2003). Danish evidence of auditors’ level of moral reasoning and predisposition to provide fair judgements. Journal of Business Ethics, 47(2), 77.
Wasieleski, D. M., & Hayibor, S. (2008). Breaking the rules: Examining the facilitation effects of moral intensity characteristics on the recognition of rule violations. Journal of Business Ethics, 78, 275–289.
Weatherbee, T., & Kelloway, E. K. (2006). A case of cyberdeviancy: Cyberaggression in the workplace. In E. K. Kelloway, J. Barling, & J. J. Hurrell (Eds.), Handbook of workplace violence (pp. 445–485). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Weber, J. (1996). Influences upon managerial moral decision making: Nature of the harm and magnitude of consequences. Human Relations, 49(1), 1–22.
Weber, J., & Gillespie, J. (1998). Differences in ethical beliefs, intentions, and behaviors: The role of beliefs and intentions in ethical research revisited. Business and Society, 37, 447–467.
Weber, J., & Wasieleski, D. (2001). Investigating influences on managers’ moral reasoning. Business and Society, 40(1), 79.
Willard, N. (1998). Moral development in the information age. Proceedings of the families, technology, and education conference (pp. 215–222). Chicago, IL, October 30–November 1, 1997.
Williams, M. S., & Hosek, W. R. (2003). Strategies for reducing academic dishonesty. Journal of Legal Studies Education, 21, 87.
Winter, S. J., Sylianou, A. C., & Giacalone, R. A. (2004). Individual differences in the acceptability of unethical information technology practices: The case of machiavellianism and ethical ideology. Journal of Business Ethics, 54, 279–301.
Zou, G. (2004). A modified poisson regression approach to prospective studies with binary data. American Journal of Epidemiology, 159(7), 702–706.
About this article
Cite this article
Roberts, J.A., Wasieleski, D.M. Moral Reasoning in Computer-Based Task Environments: Exploring the Interplay between Cognitive and Technological Factors on Individuals’ Propensity to Break Rules. J Bus Ethics 110, 355–376 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1196-z