Violence, aggression, and ethics: The link between exposure to human violence and unethical behavior

Abstract

Can exposure to media portrayals of human violence impact an individual’s ethical decision making at work? Ethical business failures can result in enormous financial losses to individuals, businesses, and society. We study how exposure to human violence—especially through media—can cause individuals to make less ethical decisions. We present three experiments, each showing a causal link between exposure to human violence and unethical business behavior, and show this relationship is mediated by an increase in individual hostility levels as a result of exposure to violence. Using observational data, we then provide evidence suggesting that this relationship extends beyond the context of our experiments, showing that companies headquartered in locations marked by greater human violence are more likely to fraudulently misstate their financial statements and exhibit more aggressive financial reporting. Combined, our results suggest that exposure to human violence has significant and real effects on an individual’s ethical decision making.

Publication
Journal of Business Ethics