Two- rather than one-way streets : Agents as causal forces in principals’ unethical decisions

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

2 Scopus Citations
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-227
Journal / PublicationJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Online published24 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


Models of diffusion of responsibility suggest that principals will avoid direct moral responsibility by hiring agents to act unethically on their behalf. The current research goes beyond the research on the diffusion of responsibility by investigating the influence of agents’ character on principals’ moral choices. Study 1 allowed principals to choose an honest or dishonest agent. The results indicated that having the opportunity to choose dishonest agents, regardless of the agents’ ultimate intentions for their previous lies, increased the likelihood that principals would subsequently hire the agents to lie on their behalf to harm others. Study 2 was designed to avoid potential self-selection effects by randomly pairing principals and agents; it found that observing agents telling harmful black lies or seemingly harmless white lies led to increased immoral actions by their principals. Our results contribute to the literatures on moral diffusion and principal-agent relationships by revealing some of the inherent dynamics in the principal-agent moral interactions.

Research Area(s)

  • Honesty, Lying, Moral character, Morality, Principal-agent relationships