U studies show money cues can lead to unethical behavior

Posted at 4:27 PM, Jul 05, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - A series of studies from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business says the mere suggestion of money could change moral decisions.

The series of four empirical studies found that an association with money can lead to unethical behavior.

In one study, participants were asked to imagine themselves managing a company an needing to hire an assistant marketing manager. If a qualified applicant said if you hired him, he could give you confidential information that would help your business, would you hire him? They rated, on a scale of one to nine, the likelihood that they would hire that person.

Some of the 65 undergraduate students who participated in the study heard money-related words or saw a picture of money. Others saw neutral, non-money related words.

"When people were cued with money, they thought about business, they thought about self-interest. They thought about cost-benefit analysis, and that's where we saw the unethical outcomes," said researcher Kristin Smith-Crowe.

"There may be things in our environment like pictures of money or things that would trigger the concept of money that would affect our decisions and our behaviors without us realizing it."

Next, the researchers want to look at how businesses can change the common wisdom so that when money enters the picture, morality isn't left at the door.