Self-interest has long been recognized as a powerful human motive. Yet, much remains to be understood about the thinking behind self-interested pursuits. Drawing from multiple literatures, we propose that situations high in opportunity for self-interested gain trigger a type of moral cognition called moral disengagement that allows the individual to more easily disengage internalized moral standards. We also theorize two countervailing forces—situational harm to others and dispositional conscientiousness—that may weaken the effects of personal gain on morally disengaged reasoning. We test our hypotheses in two studies using qualitative and quantitative data and complementary research methods and design. We demonstrate that when personal gain incentives are relatively moderate, reminders of harm to others can reduce the likelihood that employees will morally disengage. Furthermore, when strong personal gain incentives are present in a situation, highly conscientious individuals are less apt than their counterparts to engage in morally disengaged reasoning.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Business and International Management
- Business, Management and Accounting(all)
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Economics and Econometrics