Ethical Sensitivity, Cognitive Mapping, and Organizational Communication: A Different Approach To Studying Ethics in Organizations
***** LEPPER ****** EJC/REC Vol. 6, No. 4, 1996 ************
ETHICAL SENSITIVITY, COGNITIVE MAPPING, AND ORGANIZATIONAL
COMMUNICATION: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO STUDYING ETHICS IN
Tammy Swenson Lepper
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Abstract. The ability to recognize the ethical
or moral implications of situations is known as
moral (ethical) sensitivity. This paper describes
the development of the concept of ethical
sensitivity in the field of cognitive moral
psychology and current research that examines
ethical sensitivity. This significance of ethical
sensitvity for the field of organizational
communication is discussed. Because business
ethics' scholars have been the primary
investigators of ethics in organizations,
weaknesses of empirical and theoretical research
about moral decision-making in the field of
business ethics are described. Methods for
studying ethical sensitivity in organizations are
discussed, with a focus on cognitive mapping as an
improvement over many of the current methods used
in business ethics research. Finally, questions
from the field of organizational communication
that might be answered using the construct of
ethical sensitivity are discussed.
Rudolf Hoess, the man in charge of Auschuwitz, believed
that he was an upstanding German citizen who was effectively
doing the job he was assigned and providing for his family
in an honorable fashion. He believed that by following the
orders of his superiors, and doing his job, he was
"contributing to his own honor and the honor of a larger
system....He...was making a contribution to a system of
values that contained a major ideal: obey authority" (Katz,
1993, p. 67). In Hoess's mind he was an ethical person.
While we would like to think that Hoess was a monster
unlike any of us, the man described is relatively ordinary
whose evil actions were performed in the context of his
professional life. Often, managers and other professionals
jushfy their decisions by saying, "I'm just doing my job.
If we don't get that contract (sale, lower price, etc.) my
career won't advance and my organization will be hurt"
(c.f., Gellerman, 1986). Henderson (1992, p. 18) discusses
a study of one thousand companies that Fortune magazine
carried out in 1980. From that study, Fortune concluded
"most unethical behavior [is] situational rather than
criminally intentional. These were bad situations not bad
people. One executive argued, 'I've always thought of
myself as an honorable citizen. We didn't do these things
for our own behalf. . . [but] for the betterment of the
company"' (Ross, 1980, p. 62).
Common sense suggests that people will easily be able
to recognize highly evil actions and also will be able to
recognize more subtle ethical issues. However, recognizing
that a decision-making situation has ethical components may
not be as easy as is suggested by common sense. The ability
to recognize the ethical or moral implications of situations
is known as moral or ethical sensitivity, a concept which
developed in the field of moral psychology. As
communication scholars, we might wonder what role
communication plays in influencing ethical sensitivity or
how sensitive people are to communication-related ethical
issues in organizations. This paper examines these issues.
In the first section, I discuss the lineage of cognitive
moral development theory as developed by Piaget, Kohlberg,
and Rest. I then discuss current research on ethical
sensitivity. In section two of the paper, I discuss the
relationship of communication to ethics and ethical
sensitivity. The third section of the paper discusses the
current state of the business ethics literature as it
relates to decision-making and ethical sensitivity because
business ethics' scholars have been the primary
investigators of ethics in organizations. Next, I consider
methods for studying ethics and ethical sensitivity in
organizations, with a focus on cognitive mapping. I
conclude with questions in the field of organizational
communication that might be answered using the construct of
What is ethical sensitivity?
Ethical senshivity is a construct that developed in the
field of moral psychology. According to Rest (1983), the
study of cognitive moral development, of which ethical
sensitivity is a part, has its roots in Piaget's studies
of children's cognitive development. Piaget suggested that
children proceed through two stages of moral development:
the morality of constraint and the morality of cooperation.
(Rest, 1983, pp. 571-573; Lickona, 1976. pp. 219-221). The
morality of constraint is when the child is told what the
rules are and is then expected to follow the rules. If the
rules are not followed, the child can expect punishment.
Morality at this stage is an external, objective phenomenon
over which the child has no control. According to Piaget,
the more advanced stage is the morality of cooperation. At
this stage children learn that morality is affected by their
actions; they can create the rules of morality through
interchanges with their peers. As Rest (1983, p. 571)
states, "the child gradually discovers the possibilities and
conditions of cooperation that are not motivated by
unilateral respect, but by the mutual respect of
collaborators for each other and by their solidarity in
coordinating their activity for mutual benefit."
For many years, Piaget's cognitive focus on moral
development was ignored in favor of other theories, such as
psychoanalytic (also called identification-internalization)
and social-learning (from the behaviorist school) theories
of moral development (Aronfreed, 1976: Walker, 1986). Both
of these approaches suggest that morality is learned by
children either by watching behavior modeled by adults or by
positive and negative reinforcement received from
caregivers. In the late 1950s, Kohlberg challenged the
predominant behaviorist view in psychology by seeking to
study moral cognition (Rest, 1994). Kohlberg based his
study of moral cognitions on Piaget's stage model. He
developed a stage model which consists of three levels with
two stages in each level. The three levels are
precoventional (Stages 1 and 2), conventional (Stages 3 and
4), and principled (Stages 5 and 6). At Stage 1 being moral
consists of following the rules; people follow the rules to
avoid punishment and because of "the superior power of
authorities" (Kohlberg, 1976 p. 34). At Stage 2 being moral
means that equal exchanges are made, people follow the rules
only when it is in their best interest. Right actions are
taken "to serve one's own needs or interests in a world
where you have recognized that other people have their
interests, too" (Kohlberg, 1976, p. 34). At Stage 3 the
individual wants to live up to the expectations of important
people in his or her life. Individuals want to be good
sons, daughters, friends, spouses. At this stage, the
person makes choices so that he or she can "be a good person
in [his or her] own eyes." He or she maintains "a belief in
the Golden Rule' and wants to "maintain rules and authority
which support stereotypical good behavior" (Kohlberg, 1976,
p. 34). At Stage 4 the individual values the contribution
that laws and doing one's duty make to maintaining social
order. People perform right actions so that the social
system remains unthreatened. This stage differs from Stage
3 in that Stage 3 focuses on maintaining close interpersonal
relationships while Stage 4 focuses on one's duty to obey
laws in order to uphold the structure of society. In Stage
5, people recognize that moral values are relative to one's
social group; others may hold different values and opinions.
At this level, people believe that rationally developed laws
and duties that consider overall good are best. Kohlberg
notes that "these relative rules should usually be, upheld.
. .in the interest of impartiality and because they are a
social contract. Some nonrelative values and rights like
life and liberty must be upheld in any society and
regardless of majority opinion" (p. 36). Stage 6 people
hold universal moral principles. At this stage, "morality
is defined by how rational and impartial people would
ideally organize cooperation" (Rest, 1994, p. 5).
Kohlberg believed that people progress, in order,
through the stages; once a stage has been achieved, there is
no regression to a previous stage. Rest (1983, p. 586)
clarifies this progression when he notes, "the acquisition
of cognitive structures is gradual rather than abrupt:
acquisition is not an all-or-nothing matter but rather is
better depicted as a gradual increase in the probability of
occurrence....subjects are not simply 'in' one stage or
another but fluctuate within a developmental range."
Evidence summarized by Walker (1986) suggests that overall
the stage model is an accurate portrayal of people s moral
Although many scholars believe that this model is an
excellent representation of cognitive moral judgment
development, others have suggested that this modcl has
serious problems. People have charged that the model is
culturally biased, biased towards cognitive development that
individuals may not desire, and biased against women. In
answer to these charges, Rest (1994) summarizes research
that suggests that the model stands up across cultures
(using this model, work was done in Hong Kong, Korea,
Iceland, and Australia) with similar results in all the
cultures studied. He also points out that individuals
prefer the highest cognitive stage they can comprehend
(Rest, 1994, pp. 16-17) and that women (when categorized
using DIT scores, Rest's method of analyzing people's
progression through the stages) tend to score slightly
higherthan men. (Rest, 1986, p. 113: see also Weber, 1990,
p. 689 for funher discussion of support for Kohlberg's
After years of working with Kohlberg's stage theory of
cognitive moral judgment development, Rest developed his
Four-Component Model when doing a review of the literature
of moral psychology. He thought that there was a need to
integrate various aspects of the morality literature which
seemed to be taLking about different parts of the same
construct. (Rest, 1994, p. 22) Stage theory, Rest believes.
is incomplete because it only addressed the process of
making an ethical judgment. Stage theory does not consider
how people perceive ethical dilemmas, how they choose among
various possible actions, or what goes into actually
carrying out a moral action. The Four-Component model
the production of moral behavior in a particular
situation involves (1) interpreting the situation
in terms of how people's welfare is affected by
possible actions of the subject [moral
sensitivity], (2) figuring out what the ideally
moral course of action would be [moral judgment],
(3) selecting among valued outcomes to intend to
the moral course of action [moral motivation], and
(4) executing and implementing what one intends to
do [moral character]. (Rest, 1983, p. 559)
This model is not a stage step model, like Kohlberg's
theory, where Component I must precede Component II and so
on. Rest and his colleagues believe that the components can
influence one another; for example, your interpretation of
the situation (Component I) may be affected by your overall
value structure, including nonmoral values (Component III).
He (1983, p. 570) says that "although the four components
suggest a logical sequence, each component influences the
other components through feedback and feedforward loops."
As Rest notes, there is, overall, a good deal of
evidence to support his Four-Component Model, which he cites
in his 1986 book. Greatest support exists for Component II,
which deals with moral judgment development. Rest (1983, p.
570) states that there are thousands of citations that
support developmental stages in Component II. While
non-moral development research exists for perception and the
schemata involved in perception (the foundation of Component
I), there is not as much research on how people specifically
perceive ethical issues. Components III and IV are not
central to this paper and research supporting them will not
be discussed, except to direct the reader to Rest's earlier
works and note that, according to Rest, the least research
has been performed on Component III, choosing between
The largest strand of research in moral sensitivity has
been done by Bebeau and her colleagues; they have studied
the ethical sensitivity of dental students since 1980
(Bebeau, 1994; Bebeau, Rest, & Yamoor, 1985). Note that
they use the term 'ethical' sensitivity instead of 'moral'
sensitivity. They do so because they are "measuring the
individual's ability to interpret factors in the care
setting that relate directly to obligations stated in the
profession's code of ethics" (Bebeau, 1994, p. 123). This
paper will use the term 'ethical' instead of 'moral'
sensitivity because of the common use of the term 'ethical'
instead of 'moral' in the field of business ethics. Other
works (Duckett & Ryden, 1994; Bredemeier & Shields, 1994;
Volker, 1984, as cited in Rest, 1986) have examined moral
sensitivity in nursing, sports, and counseling. Another
approach to ethical sensitivity has been taken by Lind and
Rarick (1994, 1995). Instead of examining how sensitive
professionals are to ethical issues within their field, as
the previously cited studies did, they are interested in
examining how people outside the profession perceive ethical
issues in the news provided to them by the news media. In
their work, they examine how sensitive news viewers are to
ethical issues in the creation of news stories. They
suggest that ethical sensitivity consists of the:
1. Ability to comprehend and understand special
characteristics of the situation....including the
actors involved, the actions taken, and the setting
2. Ability to see possible ethical issues or problems
in the situation, as evidenced by the events
portrayed in the news story, and understanding that
participants in the story have rights and
3. Ability to see possible consequences or outcomes of
the ethical choices made.... in terms of how
specific reporting actions reflected in the news
story would affcct specific types of persons.
4. Ability to see what types of persons would be
affected by those outcomes or consequences (called
stakeholders), and to indicate how those persons
would be affected, given their respective rights and
5. Ability to understand and interpret how the four
factors of situation, ethical issue, consequences.
and stakeholders interact or are linked to compose a
larger system in which the person discusses his or
her reasoning and evaluations about the presence or
absence of ethical issues. (Rarick, Lind, and
Swenson-Lepper, 1995, pp. 6-7)
This perspective suggests that there are five aspects
of ethical sensitivity: perception of the special
characteristics of the situation, the issues present,
stakeholders to the action, consequences for those
stakeholders, and the connections between the categories.
This definition of ethical sensitivity will be used
throughout this paper. This definition squares with Rest's
(1986, p. 3) more detailed definition of Component I where
he says that "the person must have been able to make some
sort of interpretation of the particular situation in terms
of what actions were possible, who (including oneself) would
be affected by each course of action, and how the interested
parties would regard such effects on their welfare."
How are ethics and ethical sensitivity related to
communication in organizations?
Generally, when we think about ethics, we think about
'wrong' (or evil) action (Toffler, 1986, p. 10). What
'evil' or 'wrong' decisions have businesses in the modern
era made? Sad to say, but the voluminous writings about
business ethics (over 2,300 citations from 1982 to the
present in the Business Index Database) are often inspired
by unethical behavior by businesses. Frequently cited
examples of unethical behavior by large organizations are
the Beech Nut apple juice decision (Aguilar, 1994, p. 4-5),
E. F. Hutton's check kiting scheme (Henderson, 1992, p.
165), the savings and loan scandal, Tailhook, etc. Although
we generally see and hear about unethical decisions of
corporations, there are also examples of companies that have
made choices thought to be of high ethical quality. The
most frequently noted example is of Johnson and Johnson's
decision to pull Tylenol(TM) capsules off the market in
light of the poison crisis (Hodgson, 1992, p. 31; Aguilar,
1994, p. 65). T.G.I. Fridays restaurant chain, Chemical
Bank, Dayton Hudson Corporation, and other companies are
presented as organizations where good ethical decisions are
generally made; these companies enjoy excellent reputations
based on high ethical standards (Hodgson, 1992; Henderson,
As has been noted throughout the centuries (Golden,
Berquist, & Coleman, 1983. p. 4), communication (or rhetonc)
and ethics are intimately tied together. From Aristotle's
'a good man speaking well' to Golden, Berquist, & Coleman's
statement that "genuine rhetoric occurs when a communicator
presents an informative or suasory ethical verbal (written
or oral) or non-verbal message specifically designed to
create a persuasive effect in an audience comprised of
readers or listeners who have a choice or perceived choice
and the power to modify the exigencies upon which the
discourse is constructed" (emphasis added, p. 5). While it
is easy to understand how ethics plays a role in informative
or persuasive public discourse, it may be less clear when
the topic is organizational communication and everyday
ethical judgments and decisions.
Different forms of communication in organizations
either implicitly or explicitly establish ethical standards
in organizations. Organizational codes for ethical conduct
(Stevens, 1994), orientation programs (Pribble, 1990),
newsletters, speeches, and directions from supervisors are
all explicit ways of communicating ethical standards in
organizations. Standards may be implicitly communicated
when codes and actual practice contradict each other.
Jansen and von Glinow (1985) discuss the idea that
organizational reward systems often reinforce behavior
counter to those very organization's ethical codes. For
example, bonuses tied to sales results may communicate that
results are most important and may encourage people to
inflate sales reports or cheat to get results. Colleagues
or standard practices provide information about what are
appropriate, but not necessarily ethical, actions within the
Besides the process that institutes ethical standards
in organizations, communication is also seen as a method for
enhancing ethical decision-making. Sims (1994) suggests
that in order to make more ethical decisions, more conflict
needs to be stimulated and that people need to brainstorm
and use other decision techniques (pp. 112 ff.). Aguilar
(1994), Toffler (1986), and Waters and Bird (1987) suggest
that in order for people to consider the ethical dimensions
of decisions, ethics needs to become a legitimate topic of
conversations in business places. Unfortunately. as Aguilar
(1994) and Tofflcr (1986) note, discussions of ethical
dilemmas by employees with managers or peers are frequently
discouraged in contemporary organizations. Toffler (1986,
p. 339) states "What I have been urging is better
*communication*. Managers at all levels of the organization
and their employees must learn to *express* their ethical
concerns and *to listen to and hear* each other as they do
so. Without such effective exchange, the ethically best
intentions are likely to fall short of effective
implementation." (emphasis in text)
More specifically, researchers studying cognitive moral
development have found that communication with others is an
effective way of developing moral judgment. While it is
easy to assume that Kohlberg believed that moral development
occurred at the exclusion of outside influence because of
his cognitive focus, he assumed that social interaction
(communication) influenced cognitive moral development. He
(1976, p. 48) assumed that: "basic moral norms and
principles are structures arising through experiences of
social interaction, rather than through internalization of
rules that exist as external structures; moral stages are
not defined by internalized rules, but by structures of
interaction between the sell and others" and that
"environmental influences in moral development are defined
by the general quality and extent of cognitive and social
stimulation throughout the child's development, rather than
by specific experiences with parents or experiences of
discipline, punishment, and reward."
In several studies, individuals' moral development
levels have been raised through interventions. Rest (1986,
p. 81) found, in a meta-analysis of moral development
studies that examined the change in moral judgment
development scores, that "dilemma discussion programs have
on the average the greatest impact, followed by personality
development programs" (modest effect sizes of .41 and .36,
respectively). Both types of programs tend to focus on
communication. In dilemma discussion groups, people discuss
different view points on moral dilemmas. Rest (1986, pp.
79-80) suggests that these groups are effective because they
provide "concentrated practice in moral problem-solving
stimulated by peer give-and-take (challenging one another's
thinking, reexamining assumptions. being exposed to
different points of view, building lines of argument, and
responding to counter argument)." The second kind of
intervention focuses on personal psychological development.
These programs include interaction with others, but focus on
self-analysis. Rest (1986, p. 80) comments "the programs
involve subjects in diverse kinds of activities (e.g.,
cross-age teaching, empathy training, communication skills
training, cooperation simulation games, volunteer service
work, keeping logs about one's personal thoughts and
feelings), but the activities all have the objective of
promoting reflection about the self and self in relation to
others." Although interventions can help people advance in
their moral judgment development level, Rest points out that
people are not likely to advance through several stages
because of an intervention. He says (1986, p. 60) "the
magnitude of change in these moral education programs tends
to be the equivalent of four to five years' natural
growth....The lack of huge changes in moral judgment is not
surprising considering the tests that are most frequently
used. . .were designed to depict rather broadly gauged
changes in thinking over the life span."
In addition to affecting individuals' moral judgment
development stage, it also seems likely that communication
can have a direct influence on ethical sensitivity by
helping people create new schemata about specific behaviors
and courses of action. For example, prior to consciousness
raising efforts, sexual harassment was not an issue for many
people. People did not perceive their comments or behaviors
as 'sexual harassment.' The common attitude was that the
behaviors were 'all in fun' and that the person the
behaviors were directed at should ignore the behaviors.
Organizations with sexual harassment policies have
influenced the schemata of their members to perceive certain
types of behavior as fitting into the category of sexual
harassment. Organizations like the United States Navy even
provide specific lists of behaviors that are unacceptable
(definitely fit the category or schema of sexual
harassment), questionable (behaviors may or may not be
interpreted as sexual harassment, so the behaviors should be
avoided) or acceptable (behaviors that are definitely
acceptable). Now that people have a schema for sexual
harassment, they are likely to be more sensitive to moral
dilemmas and decisions where that behavior is evidenced. It
seems likely that schemata that influence ethical
sensitivity could be moderated by peer communication,
behavior modeled by others, formal communication, gossip,
stories, rituals, etc.
Why is ethical sensitivity an important construct for
studying ethics in organizations?
Ethical sensitivity is an important construct for
studying ethics in organizations for two reasons. First.
the term is already used in the business ethics literature,
but not in the same sense of Rest's model. Second, this
construct offers a different theoretical approach than the
one commonly taken in business ethics. In the section that
follows, I will be discussing 'business' ethics instead of
'organizational' ethics because the study of ethics in
organizations has occurred primarily in business schools and
researchers from business schools have, for the most part,
studied people in corporations; they generally refer to
their area of study as 'business ethics.'
Some business ethics scholars recognize the importance
of ethical sensitivity, but they do not define or use it in
a consistent manner. Moral sensitivity to Rossouw (1994 p.
17), a post-modernist, is an outcome that occurs through
participation in moral discussion: people will "become
aware and sensitive of implications of their moral stance
which they either have not foreseen or haven't realized the
full extent of, in the past." In his work moral sensitivity
is the precursor to advancing one's moral development (p.
19) because one's eyes are opened to the implications of
one's beliefs through confronting the opposing beliefs of
another. For Rossouw, ethical sensitivity is a process of
becoming more aware of the consequences of beliefs.
While not a central feature of his paper, Schlacter
(1990) uses the term ethical sensitivity to refer to how
well professionals can detect the ethical aspects of work
situations, a definition similar to Rest's. Schlacter
believes that this sensitivity is influenced by the "kinds
of tasks performed, and the values communicated by office
colleagues" (p. 841). Likewise, Payne and Giacalone (199O,
p. 652) discuss ethical sensitivity in terms of a person's
ability to detect an ethical issue. Like Schlacter, they
believe that ethical sensitivity is affected by forces in
the individual's environment. These last two views of
ethical sensitivity are similar to Rest's, but ethical
sensitivity has not, to my knowledge, been studied in
business ethics, nor have the forces that influence ethical
sensitivity been studied.
Using the construct of ethical sensitivity provides a
different theoretical approach for understanding how people
come to make ethical decisions. Instead of examining the
moral frameworks that people use to make decisions, ethical
sensitivity focuses our attention on whether people are able
to perceive the ethical aspects of a decision-making
dilemma. By examining ethical sensitivity, we are looking
at a component that precedes an individual's ability to make
a judgment or a decision. If you do not perceive that a
decision situation has ethical aspects, you will not be able
to make ethical judgments or carry out behaviors in
accordance with those judgments.
How can Rest's Four-Component Model provide structure for
business ethics research?
In this section of the paper, I will discuss the
current state of business ethics research, with a focus on
ethical decision-making and judgment. Ford & Richardson
(1994) did a recent review of the empirical literature on
ethical decision-making in which they reviewed 50 studies,
including information about the sample, methods, and basic
findings of each study. Their review of the literature
includes articles published through 1992; because of the
comprehensive nature of their review, no such review will be
undertaken here; articles discussed here were, with few
cxceptions (Delaney & Sockell, 1992; Laczniak & Inderrieden,
1987; Weber, 1990), not reviewed by Ford and Richardson.
Ford and Richardson divide the studies into two categories:
individual and situational factors influencing decisions.
In Table 1 (available by request from the author), the
studies reviewed in this paper are categorized by whether
are they are concerned primarily with individual or
Ford and Richardson (1994) broke individual factors
into personal attributes (consisting of religion,
nationality, sex, and age); education and employment
background (consisting of type of education, years of
education, employment and years of employment); and
personality/beliefs/values (consisting of Machiavellianism,
neuroticism, extroversion, value orientation; locus of
control; role conflict and ambiguity; and acceptance of
authority). Ford and Richardson (1994) found that
interpersonal attributes llike age. sex, religion] are
related to an individual's ethical beliefs and decision
making in some studies but not in others" (p. 210). They
found that in some cases, but not in others, "type and years
of education and type and years of employment are related to
an individual's ethical beliefs and decision making
behavior" (p. 211). They found that in some studies. but
not in all, "personality traits of the decision maker are
related to his/her ethical beliefs and behavior" (p. 210).
The only personality trait that was strongly associated with
ethical beliefs was Machiavellianism. (p. 210). Overall,
individual factors are not a good predictor of ethical
Situational factors that Ford and Richardson (1994) found
in the literature were referent groups (including peer group
influence, top management influence, and rewards and
sanctions); codes of conduct; type of ethical conflict;
organizational factors (including organization effects,
organization size, and organization level); and industry
factors (including industry type and business
competitiveness). For situational factors, Ford and
Richardson (1994) found that studies generally support the
idea that "the direct influence of the person's peers
increases as the intensity and frequency of contact with
that person's peers increases. People see themselves as
more ethical than their peers, co-workers, and supervisors
in their ethical beliefs and decision making behavior" (p.
212). In relation to top management and rewards, Ford and
Richardson review studies that support the idea that "an
individual's ethical beliefs and decision making behavior
will increasingly become congruent with top management's
beliefs as defined through their words and actions as
rewards provided for compliance congruency are increased"
(p. 216). They report that current studies generally
support the idea that corporate codes of ethics change
decision-making for the better; they suggest that
organizational members might change their behavior because
of rewards and sanctions from top management for code
compliance, not because of the mere presence of a code. (p.
216). Stevens (1994), on the other hand, reviewed the
literature about codes and suggests that there is only a
very weak link between a corporation's conduct and having an
ethical code. They also found mixed results for the idea
that the type of ethical dilemma affects the type of ethical
decision. (p. 216). For organizational factors, the
studies they report support the idea that "the more ethical
the climate and culture of an organization is, the more
ethical an individual's ethical beliefs and decision
behavior will be. The strength of this influence may be
moderated by the structure and design of some organizations"
Another way of organizing the mass of confusing and
sometimes contradictory literature in the field of business
ethics is by using Rest's Four Component Model as an
organizational system. While many other models exist that
seek to put together all of the influences on individual's
ethical decision-making processes (Knouse and Giacalone,
1992; Bommer et al, 1987, Trevino, 1986), Rest's work done
in the field of moral psychology seems to provide a better
model to guide the direction of research; his model gives
research findings a place in an overall picture of an
individual's ethical decision-making and judgment in
organizations. His model, which is based on empirical data
from the moral psychology field, allows for the complex
interplay of factors that contribute to an individual's
Component I of the Four-Component Model is concerned
with the individual's ability to detect that a situation has
ethical components. Only two articles were concerned
primarily with this component. At the theoretical level,
Payne and Giacalone (1990) suggest that a model that
examines people's ethics should include moral psychology
theory research like Kohlberg's and theory and research into
perceptual concepts and moral judgment. Perceptual concepts
include attributions, cognitive distortions, and impression
management. They suggest that 'perceptual processes of
attributions and cognitive distortions. . .can describe how
individuals attribute blame or responsibility to themselves
and others for particular actor's....impression
management...helps to explain how individuals try to
influence the perceptions that others have of them so as to
gain favorable attribution" (p. 653). However, while Payne
and Giacalone (1990) address Rest's Four-Component Model,
they do not seem to understand it. They discuss the
Four-Component Model and say that it is "a four-component
process leading to moral conduct that includes situational
interpretation moral reasoning or judgment, alternative
conduct deliberations, and implementation of the moral plan
of action" (p. 651). Then, one page later, they raise
questions that Rest (1986) addresses in his book, _Moral
Delvelopment: Advances in Research and Theory_. They ask:
We might inquire about individual perception of or
sensitivity to the very existence of an ethical
dilemma. Why do some individuals appear to be
less aware of ethical or moral dilemmas in
everyday life and fail to take subsequent steps
with regard to these situations? . . .
Essentially, we will argue that processes exist
apart from the moral reasoning process itself;
such processes augment the perception of ethical
dilemmas, as they might augment the perception of
other situational determinants of behavior. Thus,
while the particular stages of moral development
proposed by Kohlberg or Piaget, for example, have
influenced our understanding of different levels
of moral reasoning, they have not addressed
certain biases and sensitivities in perceptual and
communication processess [sic] that influence
moral decisions and conduct. (p. 652)
Having just discussed Rest's Four-Component Model, the
authors proceed to reinvent Component One (Moral
Sensitivity). Rest said that Component I was not
exclusively a moral process. He (1986) says of Component 1:
We must not underestimate the difficulty in
interpreting social situations nor must we assume
that all misinterpretation is defensive in nature,
even though people sometimes may not 'see' things
because they are defensively blocking them from
conscious recognition. We are just beginning to
understand how complicated it is to interpret
social situations. The vast new emerging field of
social cognition. . .is clarifying the
complications in cue detection, information
integration, and inference-making that are
involved in developing the ability to interpret
social situations. (p. 6; see also Rest, 1983, p.
Rest also believes that each of the components is a separate
process; he asks "when a person is behaving morally, what
must we suppose has happened psychologically to produce that
behavior? Our answer to that question. . .is to postulate
that four major kinds of psychological processes must have
occurred in order for moral behavior to occur" (1986, p. 3).
Further, Rest does not deny that there are social influences
on individuals' moral decision making. He suggests in a
brief review of his Four-Component Model that "an
all-inclusive review of morality research would discuss all
four components, both the affective and cognitive aspects,
both developmental and nondevelopmental aspects, both
individual and group processes" (1983, p. 570, emphasis
added). It seems that Payne and Giacalone could have
benefited from a closer reading of Rest's work.
On the empirical front, Tyson (1990) describes a study
where people generally believe that they are more ethical
than others. This study fits under Component I, moral
sensitivity, because it examines how people interpret
ethical decision-making situations in terms of what the
individual would do based on what they believe others would
do. Remember that ethical sensitivity includes interpreting
how other "interested parties would regard such effects on
their welfare" (Rest, 1986, p.3). Tyson (1990) explains
people's unethical behavior and their belief that they are
more ethical than others in terms of the prisoner's dilemma.
In the prisoner's dilemma, people can profit the most by
choosing the most unethical decision, as long as the other
person does not choose the most unethical decision. People
assume others will make the most unethical decision, so they
must also make it, even if they do not agree with it, in
order to survive. While an interesting proposition, he did
not provide an analysis of whether the ten behaviors he gave
subjects in a questionnaire were statistically distinct and
did not provide any information about measures of power,
reliability, or validity.
Component II is concerned with the process of making
moral judgments. Just as Rest found in the field of moral
psychology, the field of business ethics' research is
dominated by studies that focus on individual factors that
contribute to moral judgment. Different scholars have used
different approaches to examine moral judgment in business
ethics; some have examined the moral standards used by
managers (Bird & Waters, 1987), the relationship of an
individual's ethical ideology to how they reason about moral
issues (Barnett, Bass, & Brown, 1994), or the relationship
between a multidimensional-scale based on moral philosophies
and ethical judgments (Reidenbach & Robin, 1990; Hansen,
1992; Cohen, Pant, & Sharp, 1993).
Bird and Waters (1987) attempt to describe the moral
standards of managers. They did not propose what these
standards might be, but attempted to discover them through
interviews. They found that managers held the following
standards: managers should be honest in communication,
managers should treat people fairly, managers should give
special treatment for special situations, competition
between organizations should be fair, managers should act in
the organization's best interest, managers should practice
corporate social responsibility, and managers should respect
the laws. While they were doing exploratory research to
discover what kinds of moral standards managers might have,
their report of their methodology is lacking. They report
that they performed interviews with managers and they
generally describe the interview process, but they do not
describe their interview schedule or other devices to
maintain consistency across their 193 cases. They are not
clear about whether the n in this study refers to sample
size or a total number of moral dilemmas, which may include
more than one for each manager.
Barnett, Bass, and Brown (1994) test Forsyth's model
that suggests that differences in ethical ideology affect
how individuals reason about moral issues. They propose
that levels of idealism and relativism will affect the
results of people's moral decisions. They found that people
who scored highly on idealism judged unethical behavior more
harshly, while relativism was uncorrelated with ethical
Another approach to examining individual's ethical
decision-making is to see whether different philosophic
approaches to ethics can be distilled into a
multidimensional scale that shows differences among
respondents and prcdicts their decisions. Reidenbach and
Robin (1990) worked on just such a scale. Their original
instrument included scales for the following philosophical
approaches to ethics: justice, relative, egoist,
utilitarian, and deontological. Upon testing the scale,
they found three dimensions: moral equity. relativism. and
contractualism. Hansen (1992) continued work on Reidenbach
and Robin's (1990) scale and found a model "with four
dimensions: a broad-based ethical judgment dimension, a
deontological judgment dimension, a teleological judgment
dimension, and a social contract dimension" (p. 523).
Hansen suggests that the scale needs further refinement,
because he found four components instead of three. However,
he does not clearly address how he changed and adapted
Reidenbach and Robin's (1990) scale. Cohen, Pant, and Sharp
(1993) also examined Reidenbach and Robin's (1990) scale.
They found different constructs than Reidenbach and Robin
(1990) and Hansen (1992). They did not find a consistent
number of factors across the scenarios they tested. Cohen,
Pant, and Sharp suggest that differences in results may
occur because the scale has been used to test different
professions (p. 25). The results of this stream of research
suggest that a priori defined ethical judgment systems may
not match the schemata that people use to make ethical
judgments. None of the studies found factors that were
clearly related to the a priori philosophical categories
Strong and Meyer (1992) propose an "integrative,
descriptive model of ethical decision making with special
attention given to issues of measurement" (p. 89). They
suggest an overarching model of managerial decision-making
where managerial decision-making is influenced by
environmental restraints, internal moral restraints, and
internal rational restraints (p. 90). They specifically
test the part of the model that deals with internal moral
restraints. They test (but do not find support for) the
theory that "greater moral development will be related to a
higher social responsibility perception of firm conduct" (p.
Component III is conccrned with how subjects choose
what value is most important in a particular decision
situation. Values may be moral, aesthetic, religious. or
monetary, etc. Studies that fit under this category have
examined people's economic versus their ethical values
(Barnett & Karson, 1987) and the value people put on their
place in an organization as demonstrated through
organizational dependence (Wahn, 1993).
Barnett and Karson (1987) test ideas about the
relationship between values and decisions. They investigate
two primary values: economic and ethical. They wanted to
see if predominantly economic values would predict an
economic decision and if predominantly ethical values would
predict ethical decisions. They found that people in four
of five scenarios tended to choose what they had
predefined as the ethical course of action. However, they
found that, overall, the individual's subjective values were
not good predictors of behavior. A major problem with the
vignettes is that the subjects could only make one of two
predefined choices which had been judged either economic or
ethical. Some of the choices could have been interpreted
differently; for example, someone could have chosen the
course of action defined as economic, but have ethical
reasons for his or her choice.
Wahn (1993) studied the relationship between
organizational dependence (how dependent employees were on
their organization) and pressures from the organization to
perform unethically. She proposed, based on past research,
that people who felt more dependent on their organization
would be more likely to comply to requests for unethical
behavior; her hypothesis was not supported. This study
implicitly involves comparing subjects who value security
(staying in the organization) with those who do not and
compares this value to the likelihood they wili comply with
requests for unethical behavior. She may have had
significant results had she weighed organizational
dependence against the subjects' other values.
Gellerman (1986) explains poor ethical decisions based
on four kinds of rationalizations of decisions. These
rationalizations are that the decision "is not 'really'
illegal or immoral; that it is in the individual's or
corporation's best interest; that it will never be found
out; or that because it helps the company the company will
condone it" (p. 85). Gellerman's study primarily examines
aspects of Component III: the rationalizations discussed
generally express the individual's attempt to weigh ethical
values against the individual's or corporation's interests.
While the idea that people rationalize away poor ethical
decisions is appealing, he only offers three case studies as
examples of his ideas.
Numerous theories have been proposed that suggest how
situational factors affect individuals' ethical
decision-making. Most of these situational factors fit
under Component III of Rest's Model in that environments may
emphasize values that compete with the individual's moral
values. Situational factors range from the large scale to
the localized. Hosmer (1987) suggests that unethical
behavior becomes institutionalized because of current
structures of top management, the divisional structure of
organization (corporations that are divided into competing
business units), and strategic planning methods that
emphasize meeting financial projections. Because of
competition between different divisions for scarce resources
within the corporation, managers are forced to make
unethical decisions in order to avoid being seen by top
management as a business unit that perforins below average.
While Hosmer (1987) offers anecdotal support, his article
provides only a theoretical view of institutional factors
that may lead people to make unethical choices. Similarly,
Deetz (1992) argues that institutionalized managerialism
allows people to detach themselves from their personal
responsibility for their actions; "for many individuals
ethics becomes reduced to the calculated risk of getting
caught, and motivation is exchanged for rewards" (p. 323).
Jackall (1988) argues that "managers' rules for survival and
success are at the heart of what might be called the
bureaucratic ethic, a moral code that guides managers
through all the dilemmas and vicissitudes that confront them
in the big organization" (p. 4). He views bureaucracies as
places where managers':
knowledge is fragmented and secreted, where
private agreements are the only real way to
fashion trust in the midst of ongoing competition
and conflict, where relationships with trusted
colleagues constitute one's only means both of
defense and opportunity, and where one knows, even
coincidental association with a disaster can haunt
one's career years later, keeping silent and
covering for oneself and for one's fellows become
not only possible but prudent, indeed virtuous,
courses of action....The alert manager pays
whatever obeisance is required to the ideological
idols of the moment, but he keeps his eye fixed on
what has to be done to meet external and
organizational exigencies. (p. 133)
Jackall emphasizes that managers base their decisions on
surviving in the corporation and creating the greatest
advantage for themselves, whatever the ethical conscquences.
Because managers are often moved frequently, they can make
decisions that look good in the short term. These decisions
may cause great harm in the long term, but by the time the
effects are felt, they will be gone from the unit (e.g.,
boosting profitability of a unit by postponing all repairs
to infrastructure). The managers short term profit pushes
them up the hierarchy, enhancing their survival and
rewarding them for unethical decisions. This way of viewing
one's progress, Jackall suggests, is institutionalized in
the modern corporation by reward and promotion structures
and the value of short term profitability. Jackall bases
his work on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 143
managers in three companies.
Similarly, Reilly and Kyj (1990) imply that the system
forces people to make bad choices. They argue that
"business and economic principles have effectively
rationalized the system with amoral definitions-systems
without moral content" (p. 26) These systems include such
things as using the language of money to discuss and justify
most decisions. They further suggest that "business
ethicists, in leaning too much toward the psychology of the
individual, have tended to discount the structural power of
systems to 'determine' individual behavior....The weight of
this article suggests unequivocally that the problem of
unethical behavior is not a people problem but a system
problem of definition. People's behavior is merely the
consequence of following the systems principles" (p. 26).
Along the same lines, Jansen and von Glinow (1985) theorize
that there are implicit rewards for unethical behavior, in
spite of public statements and codes that disapprove of
unethical decisions. These rewards, they argue, are part of
the organization's system; "this reward system perspective
views rewards and sanctions not only as direct determinants
of the individual's definition of the situation, but as
determinants of group norms, which also define the
individual's situation" (p. 815). All of these situational
factors are concerned with values that may outweigh the
individual's moral values.
I found only one study in business ethics that examines
the behaviors that result in ethical decision-making
situations (Component IV). Laczniak and Inderrieden (1987)
examine, in an in-basket study of 113 MBA students, the
influence of stated organizational concern on ethical
decisions, in an effort to study how organizational concern
as expressed in organizational ethical codes affects
individual decision-making. They note that their study is
based on learning theory; they evaluate how changing the
stimulus from the organization (from less to more specific
instructions about the organization's expectations for
ethical behavior) affects the manager's decision. They
found that stated organizational concern only affected
judgment on issues that included choosing illegal actions.
People did not make significantly more ethical decisions
when there was more stated organizational concern about
ethics when the issue was simply a moral, and not a legal,
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993) suggest that when upper
level managers violate ethical principles, it is because of
their success. Success may cause the 'Bathsheba' syndrome,
which causes leaders to lose strategic focus, gives them
privileged access to information, people, goods, and time,
and gives them "control of resources and inflated beliefls]
in personal ability to control outcomes" (p. 269). In this
scenario, interpretations of situations are influenced by
the individual's perception of his or her influence over the
outcomes of situations (Component 1). The authors suggest
the value of personal gratification (in many forms) may out
weigh moral values (Component III). While an interesting
article illustrated with the story of David and Bathsheba,
only anecdotal evidence is offered to support their
Using the Four-Component Model to organize studies
provides a more comprehensive view of ethics in
organizations. This schema points out where weaknesses are
in current business ethics research. The most weaknesses
exist in the research into sensitivity to ethical issues
(Component I) and in carrying out ethical decisions
(Component IV). More work needs to be done in Component II
to determine what ethical values people use to make ethical
judgments in businesses. More research into Component III
factors would first have to determine the values held by
people in business and then examine how people weigh ethical
values against other values.
What methods might be appropriate for studying ethical
sensitivity in organizations?
If we want to study people's ethical sensitivity, we
need different methods than those currently used in business
ethics' research. In this section of the paper I will
examine the current state of research methods in business
ethics. This includes a look at some of the problems
associated with the use of questionnaires, the most common
method for studying an individual's ethical judgments, and
other problems associated with study design. I conclude by
providing an alternative approach that may be more suitable
for examining ethical sensitivity.
Two areas of concern exist about the current state of
research methods in business ethics: the common use of
questionnaire research and problems associated with study
design. Currently, there are problems with the way
questionnaires are commonly used. In the majority of
research designs, subjects are given vignettes that have an
ethical dimension and then are forced to confront issues of
right and wrong (Barnett, Bass, & Brown, 1994; Barnett &
Karson, 1987; Barnett & Karson, 1989; Cohen, Pant, & Sharp,
1993; Finegan, 1994; Hansen, 1992; Harris, 1990; Nelson &
Obremski, 1990; Reidenbach & Robin, 1990; Strong & Meyer,
1992). Generally, the subjects are asked to choose an
action that they would take (Barnett & Karson, 1987; Barnett
& Karson, 1989; Nelson & Obremski, 1990; Strong & Meyer,
1992), rate the level of goodness/badness of decisions
others have made (Barnett, Bass, & Brown, 1994; Finegan,
1994; Harris, 1990), or are given categories from normative
ethical theory on which to rank vignettes (Cohen, Pant, &
Sharp, 1993; Hansen, 1992; Reidenbach & Robin, 1990). One
problem with forcing respondents to confront issues of right
or wrong is that respondents may never have thought of the
decision scenarios in terms of ethics had the questionnaire
not brought issues of right/wrong to the forefront.
Schlacter (1990) notes that most research projects define
situations in terms of ethics: "Researchers who seek to
study the ethical sensitivity of their subjects and use
leading questions will tend to prejudge outcomes....If
ethical consciousness is the object of study, a procedure
like this will bias the inquiry at the outset, and that data
which result will only indicate a sensitivity to the
experimenter's demand" (p. 848). He goes on to suggest that
interviews and other methods that do not directly confront
subjects with moral decisions might provide more yalid
A second problem with questionnaires is that the
respondents can only see or respond to ethical issues or
decision options that the researcher allows. Some issues
may not be salient or significant to individuals; ethical
categories based on normative ethical theories may not
represent the way people other than philosophers schematize
ethical issues. Limited decision options may not provide
any realistic choices for individuals. The vignettes they
use are a third problem. The vignettes are supposed to
present realistic ethical decision making situations;
however, most of the vignettes tend to provide simplistic
representations of decision-making situations because of the
limited length of questionnaires. They tend to allow the
subject to choose one of two ethical solutions. The
vignettes tend to be very concise, with none of the noise,
other conflicting decisions, or stress that confront people
in day-to-day decision making. On average, the published
vignettes are 87 words long, which is shorter than the
average product description in a Lands' End clothing
catalog. (Averages taken from scenarios in Harris, 1990;
Cohen, Pant, & Sharp, 1993; Reidenbach & Robin, 1990; Barnett
& Karson, 1987; Hansen, 1992; Barnett & Karson, 1989). Many
of the deficiencies of questionnaire research could be
balanced out by the performance of large-scale,
interview-based research which allows for more open-ended
responses from subjects.
The samples used in current research projects are a
second concern. While sample sizes tend to be adequate
subjects tend to be either students (undergraduate and MBA
students) or managers, all highly educated people (see Table
1). Few studies examine the ethical decision-making of
lower-level managers or non-managerial employees. Research
into Kohlberg's stage model suggests that the level of
education is the best predictor of moral development stage
(Rest, 1986). Employees at all levels of an organization,
including those without MBAs, may be faced with ethical
dilemmas that will affect the organization. Research that
includes people at lower levels of organizations would help
us understand the ethical climate of the whole organization,
not just those at the top.
Interviews are one method researchers can use to avoid
setting up dilemmas as having primarily ethical/moral
characteristics. Interviews have their drawbacks, however;
gathering data from interviews tends to be less efficient
that questionnaire data (c.f. Delaney & Sockell, 1992).
Other problems, if the interview is completely open-ended,
include: 1) lack of consistency across subjects, and 2)
difficulty in empirically analyzing data. When using
data from any type of interview, you first have to decide on
a unitizing rule (thought, sentence, response to interview
question), to break the data down into codable units. After
determining how to unitize, you need to decide what kind of
method you will use to categorize your data. Content
analysis is one method that allows you to categorize data,
but it may not be appropriate for every situation. As
Axelrod (1976, p. 7) notes, "even the most fully developed
content analysis is still essentially a counting procedure
with limited usefulness for analyzing the structure of the
relationships between the concepts."
Cognitive mapping is one technique that could be used
in the field of business ethics to make the analysis of
interview data more systematic and quantifiable. It differs
from content analysis in that it can show how subjects link
categories together. Cognitive mapping is a technique
developed by Axelrod (1976) to analyze policy decisions.
(For a history of cognitive mapping. see Axelrod, 1976.) As
with any map, cognitive maps are a symbolic representation
of something. In geography, a map can be defined as, "a
two-dimensional representation of all or part of earth's
surface showing selected natural or human phenomena"
(Oberlander & Miller, 1987, p. G12). Instead of drawing a
physical feature or a characteristic of humans in relation
to a land form, a cognitive map seeks to represent certain
characteristics of a subject's thinking. In some cases, the
researcher may wish to use cognitive maps to illustrate the
subject's thinking about the strategic focus of the
organization, or causal links between policy issues, or, as
in this case, the links the subject makes between the
characteristics of ethical sensitivity: situational
characteristics, issues, stakeholders. and consequences.
It is useful to remember that cognitive mappings cannot
capture everything that a subject says. Axelrod states that
cognitive maps are mathematical models of belief systems
1976, p. 58). He says:
A mathematical model is a tremendous
simplification of what it represents. But it does
not simplify everything about its object, or there
would be nothing left to model. Instead it
simplifies everything that is not to be examined,
and leaves in the model what is to be
examined....the value of the model is not
determined by how little it simplifies, but rather
by how well it reflects those aspects of the
object which it is designed to help study....It
does not try to capture every aspect of a person's
belief system. That would be a hopeless, and even
a worthless, task since it would leave us with
something just as complicated as the original
While cognitive mapping has not been used by business
ethics researchers, cognitive mapping techniques are
frequently used in other areas of organization research.
Bougon (1992), a proponent of cognitive mapping, states that
there are two streams of research in organizations and
strategy that use cognitive mapping; one stream examines
change in social systems and the other examines
organizational strategy (see also Langenfield-Smith, 1992).
Software has been developed to analyze cognitive maps,
consultants use cognitive mapping as a technique in
organizational interventions, and executives are encouraged
to use cognitive maps to plot organizational strategy.
These common uses of cognitive mapping in organizational
seffings are not, however, appropriate for examining ethical
sensitivity. Laukkanen (1994) suggests some alternative
uses for cognitive mapping include using mapping to "model a
domain of reality, its entities and their
interrelationships, as represented in the knowledge/belief
base of respondents or of the researchers themselves" and
"they are assumed to model. . .the cognitive structures of
the respondents, called e.g., schemata, cognitive maps, or
mental models" (p. 337)
In Axelrod's work, points represent the different ideas
that a person expresses. Causal connections between points
noted by the subject are signified by arrows. Points and
arrows are the two most basic parts of cognitive maps. A
more detailed discussion of other components of cognitive
mapping will not be discussed because the adaptation of
cognitive mapping used here is based on points and arrows,
which will be discussed shortly.
When examining ethical sensitivity, particularly as
defined in this paper, the researcher is more interested in
the connections between categories than tracing causal
connections. Axelrod (1976) suggests that cognitive maps
can illustrate the limitations in people's thinking or their
lack of sensitivity; he says, "limited rationality appears
in policy settings not as a limited ability to solve
problems, but rather as restrictions in types of problems
that are even addressed" (p. 57). In Rarick, Lind, and
Swenson-Lepper's (1995) recent case study of the ethical
sensitivity of two television news viewers, their system of
cognitive mapping allows the researcher to capture the
subject's use of the important categories according to the
definition of ethical sensitivity and it also allows the
researcher to capture the subject's connections between
situational characteristics, issues, consequences, and
stakeholders. Aspects of the interviewees' responses to
probes about the news stories are categorized by the
researcher according to a coding rule system as situational
characteristics, issues, stakeholders, and consequences;
these become the points on the cognitive map. Any links the
subject makes are noted as arrows. (For a more detailed
discussion, see Rarick, Lind, & Swenson-Lepper's, 1995,
This use of cognitive mapping to evaluate ethical
sensitivity demonstrates a good match between theory
(aspects of Component I of Rest's Four-Component Model) and
method. As Eden (1992) suggests, "The ability of a map to
be a model of cognition depends mostly upon two
characteristics of the mapping method: (1) the adequacy of
the cognitive theory which guides the modelling or
representation technique and the extent to which that
modelling technique is a good reflection of the theory; and
(2) the method of elicitation of cognition" (p. 261).
While the definition of Component I, ethical
sensitivity, which guides the mapping is adequate, the
method used to elicit cognition may be problematic. First,
as Axelrod (1976, p. 254) notes, "Some beliefs that are
relevant to the subject at hand are also unstated.
Sometimes this is because they are so obvious to the speaker
and audience that they need not be made explicit." For
example. in the Rarick et al. (1995) paper, news stories
were used as stimuli for questions that probed ethical
sensitivity. Both the researcher and the subject watched
the tape; some subjects may have left information unspoken,
even when questioned, because it seemed too obvious. A
second problem with cognitive mapping of interview data is
the relationship betwecn the map, interview data, and the
person's actual cognitive structures. Some have noted that
cognitive maps are the researcher's representation of the
interviewee's representations of his or her internal state,
which in turn is the person's representation of something in
the world. Cossette and Audet (1992, p. 327) say that "a
cognitive map is a graphic representation of a set of
discursive representations made by a subject with regards to
an object in the context of a particular interaction. It is
not intended to reflect that which is in the head of the
subject: and even if it could, we have no sure way of
validating it." We cannot know that the map we have drawn
is an accurate account of the schema that occur in another's
brain. Further, the maps are influeneed by the subject's
context, be it the interview context or the context of the
type of day the person is having.
While these are serious concerns about using cognitive
mapping to analyze interview data, these problems exist any
time words (written or spoken) are used to stand for
people's cognitions. Until we can download data about
schemata directly from the human brain and until human
schema remain uninfluenced by interaction input from other
sources, and cognitive development and changes, we will have
to continue using error producing methods that involve human
communication. (See also Axelrod, p. 252)
In organizational communication, what questions could we
answer using the eonstruet of ethical sensitivity?
In the field of organizational communication, there are
at least three types of questions that can be answered using
the construct of ethical sensitivity. First, on a
methodological level, communication competence is a variable
that may affect an ethical sensitivity, score. Because
ethical sensitivity has thus far been examined through
interviews (Rarick, Lind, & Swenson-Lepper, 1995) or by
having people respond to scenarios verbally (e.g., Bebeau,
1994) oral communication competence may unduly affect
ethical sensitivity seores.
Second, on a theoretical level, researchers could
examine if organizational communication factors influence
ethical sensitivity. Socialization, formal and informal
communication, special consciousness raising campaigns
(e.g., about sexual harassment), organizational myths and
ritualsc ethical codes, and professionalization are all
communication variables that have the potential to affect
Third, ethical sensitivity could be examined in
relation to communication ethics issues. Many of the big
issues in business ethics involve eommunication. These
include whistleblowing and issues related to veracity
(exaggeration, withholding information, avoiding fraud,
etc.). For example, researchers could investigate how
supervisors handle performance reviews when employees are
performing poorly, how sales people deal with exaggerated,
but not false, information about a product, or if employees
tell a customer that less expensive materials have been
substituted in a product in a way that does not affeet the
product's performance. Accounting personnel may be asked to
leave information out or give information a spin that is
desired by management. Support personnel, like secretaries
or administrative assistants, face issues such as lying for
their supervisors and leaving out information in reports and
correspondence. Line personnel may be asked directly or
indirectly to approve products that they know are not
adequate. Communicatlon issues like verbal sexual
harassment cut across all levels of organizations. There
are a wealth of communication issues that affect employees
at all levels of an organizations; these issues should be of
interest to those of us who want to study ethics, ethical
sensitivity, and organizational communication.
 Kohlberg (1976, p. 48) notes that there are other
founding persons for cognitive developmental moral theory;
Piaget is the most commonly noted. Please see Kohlberg for
more details about the lineage of cognitive-developmental
 This model has been the predominant model of
cognitive moral development for the past 35 years After
continuous study, Kohlherg and his study group have dropped
Stage 6 from their sconug manual (Rest, 1983, p. 575),
because Stage 6 is rarely found Most U.S. citizens tend to
be at Stage 4, of the conventional stage. (Rest, 1983, p.
591). While this model has been predominant, people do
disagree with the model in many ways. See Lifton (1986) for
references to psychoanalytic challenges to this model. See
Casey & Burton (1986) for references to social-learning
theory challenges to this model. While still in the
cognitive-development field, Gilligan (1982, Gilligan, Ward
& Taylor, 1988) challenges the model's emphasis on an ethic
of justice. While her work has been very popular, Rest
(1994) points out that there is minimal evidence to support
her suppositions. This controversy, while interesting, is
outside of the realm of this paper. For more details about
this controversy, see Rest (1994).
 See Rest (1983) for a list of problems that haunted
Kohlberg, et al. in developing their interview coding
manual, which now runs to 800 pages.
 See _Journal of Management Studies_, 3, May 1992
for a whole volume examination of the use of cognitive
mapping in organization studies.
Aguilar, F.J. (1994). Managing corporate ethics:
Learning from America's ethical companies how to supercharge
business performance. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Tammy Swenson Lepper is currently a doctoral student in
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