This research project seeks to discover whether certain characteristics of a moral issue facilitate individuals' abilities to detect violators of a conditional rule. In business, conditional rules are often framed in terms of a social contract between employer and employee. Of significant concern to business ethicists is the fact that these social contracts are frequently breached. Some researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology argue that there is a biological basis to social contract formation and dissolution in business. However, although it is inescapable that biological forces shaped a fixed neural structure that guides and limits humans' abilities, we argue that characteristics of the situation in which the person finds himself or herself moderate the activation of these neural circuits in ordinary business social contract situations. Specifically, the moral intensity associated with the social contract conditional rule is likely to influence peoples' abilities to detect violators of the rule. This study utilizes adapted versions of the Wason selection task and manipulates the issue-contingent moral intensity characteristics of magnitude of consequences, proximity, and social consensus to assess if moral intensity facilitates detection of rule violators. Results from this empirical study indicate no relationship between moral intensity characteristics and issue recognition but do provide insights into the evolutionary psychology approach.

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Journal of Business Ethics
Sprott School of Business

Wasieleski, D.M. (David M.), & Hayibor, S. (2008). Breaking the rules: Examining the facilitation effects of moral intensity characteristics on the recognition of rule violations. In Journal of Business Ethics (Vol. 78, pp. 275–289). doi:10.1007/s10551-007-9376-6