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

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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).

  4. 4.

    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.

Abbreviations

ICT:

Information and communication technologies

IT:

Information technology

CLT:

Construal level theory

CMD:

Cognitive moral development

CMC:

Computer-mediated communication

COND:

Technology condition

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

TOE:

Time in minutes spent completing the experiment exercise

WORDCNT:

Number of words contained in a submitted response document

TECHSAVY:

Average score on the technology assessment instrument

GRMEMB:

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

PSI:

Person–situation interactionist perspective

TECH:

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

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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

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Keywords

  • Cognitive moral development
  • Defining issues test
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Information technology
  • Rule violations