Research Companion to Ethical Behavior in Organizations
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Research Companion to Ethical Behavior in Organizations

Constructs and Measures

Edited by Bradley R. Agle, David W. Hart, Jeffery A. Thompson and Hilary M. Hendricks

Compiling empirical work from management and social science disciplines, the Research Companion to Ethical Behavior in Organizations provides an entry point for academic researchers and compliance officers interested in measuring the moral dimensions of individuals. Accessible to newcomers but geared toward academics, this detailed book catalogs the varied and nuanced constructs used in behavioral ethics, along with measures that assess those constructs. With its cross-disciplinary focus and expert commentary, a varied collection of learned scholars bring essential studies into one volume, creating a resource that promises to enhance the burgeoning field of behavioral ethics.
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Chapter 5: Individual differences: traits and ethical leadership

David C. Howe, Matthew C. Walsman and Carol Frogley Ellertson


According to Ajzen (1987), individual differences and traits can help us understand a person’s proclivity to make certain ethical decisions or to exhibit certain behaviors. By linking traits to personal behavioral inclinations, researchers amplify our understanding of both ethical decision making and ethical behavior. Theories abound and often collide in explaining how traits influence behavior. For example, if a person is seen as possessing integrity, how is this trait manifested in his ethical decision making? Is it illustrated in the automatic, non-rational, physical manifestations of emotion and intuition? Or do we see it in a more measured, deliberative reasoning process? The burgeoning field of neuro-imaging has produced increased interest for business ethicists in the non-rational, physical basis of human actions. Recent neuroscience research has suggested that ethical decisions are made instantaneously through neural mechanisms rather than through conscious information processing (Reynolds, 2006; Reynolds, Leavitt, and DeCelles, 2010; Solomon, 1999). This argument provides evidence that there may be a direct connection between ethical traits and behaviors. This runs counter to traditional ethics research, which conceptualized ethical decision making as a deliberative cognitive process. Scholars continue to grapple with the balance between automatic neural processing and conscious cognitive processing in ethical decisions and situations, and we anticipate that more knowledge will be forthcoming. Regardless of their preferred decision-making mechanism, however, ethics researchers seem to converge on a belief that individual differences play an important role in the ways people think and behave.

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