The priming effect on the appraisal of unethical behaviors: an experimental study

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Bernardo de Abreu Guelber Fajardo
Guilherme Abib Leão


Ethical behavior management is one of the most important and complex problems faced by organizations (Stead, Worrell, & Stead, 1990). Recent studies reveal a dual process model of ethical decision making, integrating both conscious and subconscious components (Reynolds, 2006). It is interesting to highlight the work by Welsh and Ordonez (in press) related to this topic, which emphasizes the role of priming, an unconscious cognitive phenomenon that can affect and even change some individual decision patterns. From this perspective, this paper develops two experimental studies that explore the process by which priming could activate individuals' moral standards, changing the way they would evaluate certain everyday situations. The findings of both studies demonstrate the effectiveness of the priming effect, which led participants to evaluate fraudulent situations as more serious and to prescribe harsher punishments for wrongdoers. Supporting the results of prior studies, we observed a positive correlation between the seriousness of the situation and the prescribed punishment. Furthermore, our results stressed how the priming effect can strengthen this relationship. As practical implications for organizations, the use of priming can strengthen the organizational environment in ethical terms, making members less acquiescent to any observed unethical behavior.


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Fajardo, B. de A. G., & Leão, G. A. (1). The priming effect on the appraisal of unethical behaviors: an experimental study. Journal of Contemporary Administration, 18(1), 59-77.