Are “Thinkers” More Ethical Than “Doers”? How Regulatory Mode Influences Unethical Behavior

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Unethical actions can have a significant impact on both individuals and societies; thus, it is critical to identify factors that can predict such actions. The current research investigated two potential predictors of unethical behavior: locomotion and assessment regulatory mode (Kruglanski et al., 2000). Locomotion refers to the desire for continuous progress or movement in goal pursuit, while assessment refers to the desire to critically evaluate and compare among goals and means. Locomotion was expected to increase individuals’ tendency to behave unethically, whereas assessment was expected to decrease this tendency. Guilt proneness was expected to mediate these effects, such that assessors should be more prone to experiencing guilt, and should behave more ethically; locomotors, on the other hand, should be less prone to experiencing guilt, and should therefore behave less ethically. Furthermore, the effect of locomotion on unethical behavior was expected to be stronger when the unethical action saved more (vs. less) time. The effect of assessment on unethical behavior was expected to depend upon the presence of social standards for such behavior: assessors should act less ethically if there is a strong (vs. weak) social norm for unethical actions. Six studies that utilized a variety of designs and different measures of unethical behavior were carried out in order to test these hypotheses. The results were generally inconsistent with the hypotheses. Some potential explanations and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed.