Results and Discussion - Colleagues in Jesuit Business Education

Lada Kurpis, Gonzaga University
Mirjeta Beqiri, Gonzaga University
James G. Helgeson, Gonzaga University
Working Paper
May 27, 2006
In the wake of ongoing corporate scandals, society expects that business educators
will contribute to solving this problem by preparing a cohort of students who will raise
the ethical standards of the business world. In a recent Business Week survey, an
impressive 97.75% of 2,700 respondents think that ethics should be either a required,
stand-alone course for MBA students or that ethics should be incorporated into teaching
of other business disciplines (Business Week, January 21, 2003). Apparently, business
schools can respond to public expectations by emphasizing the ethics component in their
curricula. Jesuit business schools, with their missions stemming from traditions of
spirituality, humanism, and social justice, in particular seem to be prime candidates for
taking the leadership role in the implementation of this educational strategy. However,
there are many alternative routes that can be taken in the process of augmenting the ethics
component of business education. The American Assembly of the Collegiate Schools of
Business (AACSB) promotes the importance of ethics in business education but leaves it
to individual institutions to determine the extent and methods of ethics education to be
provided to students (AASCB 2004). Better understanding of factors affecting business
students’ moral development can provide valuable insights into designing and
implementing a program of business ethics education.
The present study uses empirical research to re-examine the effects of religiosity
on ethics. Religiosity has been well researched as a personality-level factor known to
affect ethical decision-making. We extend the research on religiosity and ethics by
proposing a new variable intended to measure an individual’s commitment to moral selfimprovement (CMSI). We explore the relationship between religiosity and CMSI as well
as the effect of CMSI on individual’s moral judgments and behavioral intentions.
Theories of Ethics
Two of the most influential theories of moral development, namely Piaget’s
Cognitive Moral Judgment theory (1932) and Kohlberg’s Theory of Cognitive Moral
Development (1981), emphasize cognition as the central component of this development.
Piaget’s theory posits that cognitive and moral development go on hand-in-hand.
Based on original empirical research, he defined schemas and cognitive structures that
are stated to be innate, invariant, hierarchical, and culturally universal (Rich and DeVitis
1985, p. 46). However, some limitations of Piaget’s theory arise from the fact that his
research on ethics was developed using a limited group of very young (5 to 13 years old)
Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development is better suited for assessment of the
ethics of adults. Kohlberg identifies six stages and three levels in moral development and
emphasizes moral judgment as its central component. According to Kohlberg (1981),
society progresses through the six stages of moral development, starting from the
punishment orientation stage (the lowest level) and progressively to the morality of
conscience stage (the highest level). According to Kohlberg, higher stages of cognitive
moral development are superior to the lower levels because they allow for better social
adaptation and because they are believed to use philosophically superior universal
principles of justice and fairness (Kohlberg 1981). Kohlberg posits that it is cultural
change that brings about the change in morality in a society. Children move through the
stages at their individual pace for the most part reaching the stage prevailing in their
society. According to Kohlberg’s conceptualization, it is possible to assess an
individual’s level of moral development by measuring one’s response to standardized
moral dilemmas known as the Defining Issues Test.
The Neo-Kohlbergian approach, proposed by Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, and Thoma
(1999) extends the main tenets of the Kohlberg theory by emphasizing the fact that
morality is a multi-component process. Rest et al. (1999) put forward the four-component
model of morality. The four components can be briefly described as follows:
1. Recognition of moral problems (moral sensitivity),
2. Judging which action will be more justifiable in a moral sense (moral
3. Commitment to taking moral actions, valuing moral values over other
values, and taking personal responsibility (moral motivation),
4. Overcoming fatigue and temptations, persisting in a moral task and
carrying on with the behavior (moral character).
An essential distinction of the four-component model by Rest et al. (1999) versus
the classical Kohlbergian theory is the fact that cognitive moral development, the central
tenet of the Kohlberg model, is only one of the processes in Rest’s model.
Business is a complex area of professional activity involving a lot of social
interactions and capable of affecting a wide variety of stakeholders. Due to businesses’
specialized nature, business professionals are likely to face moral dilemmas that are
unique to their profession. Therefore, the study of ethics in business settings, led to
development of specialized theories of business ethics. A Contingency Framework for
Ethical Decision-Making in Marketing by Ferrell and Gresham (1985) and a Theory of
Marketing Ethics by Hunt and Vitell (1986) provide examples of comprehensive ethics
theories specific to the business environment. Both models outline groups of factors
capable of affecting ethical cognitions, intentions and behaviors.
The Hunt-Vitell theory (1986) provides an especially detailed account of these
influencing factors. According to Hunt and Vitell (1986), these factors include cultural,
professional, organizational, and industry environments as well as personal
characteristics. The term “personal characteristics” in the Hunt-Vitell model embraces
religion, value system, belief system, strength of moral character, level of cognitive moral
development, and ethical sensitivity.
Although, the four-component model of morality by Rest et al (1999) implies that
religion and religious values will influence all four elements of morality, only two of
these processes were selected as key dependent variables for this study: recognition of an
ethical problem (moral sensitivity) and ethical behavioral intensions (moral motivation),
in response to ethical scenarios.
Religiosity and Ethics
Allport and Ross (1967) define religious orientation as “the personal practice of
religion (p. 432).” Analysis of the research literature on religious orientation suggests that
the terms “religiousness” and “religiosity” are used by researchers essentially in the same
sense (e.g., Conroy and Emerson 2004; La Barbera and Gürhan 1997, Singhapakdi et al.
2000), to describe one’s adherence to the practice of religion.
All of the aforementioned theories of morality acknowledge, either directly or
implicitly, that religiosity plays an important role in influencing an individual’s morality.
Religion serves as a social force and, for religious people, as a source of moral
philosophies that are internalized through socialization. As Rest et al. (1999) put it:
“…Morality deals with this world; religion deals with the transcendent; but when religion
defines how we in this world are to relate to each other, then religion serves to define
morality (p. 163).” Both the Piagetian and Kohlbergian views of morality explicitly posit
that cognitive moral development is an experience-based and continuous process
unfolding over time during an individual’s life span. Therefore, an individual’s ethics is
expected to be improved over time in response to educational and social influences,
including religion-related socialization.
If a person holds religion in high regard, she is also likely to hold the dogma of
morality dictated by her religion in high regard. Therefore, a highly religious person is
likely to consider ethics more important relative to a person with a low level of
H1: Religiosity is positively related to the perceived importance of ethics.
Empirical research examined the influence of religiosity on ethics on numerous
occasions (see, for instance, Rest et al. (1999) for a list of studies examining the influence
of religion on moral development). A review of recent empirical studies examining the
effects of religiosity on ethics specifically in business settings reveled substantial support
to the notion that religiosity is positively related to ethical attitudes and behavioral
intentions. Using a sample of 453 members of the American Marketing Association,
Singhapakdi et al. (2000) found that religiosity was a significant predictor of ethical
problem recognition and ethical intentions. Knotts, Lopez, and Mesak (2000) found that
in their sample of 242 undergraduate students, respondents with greater levels of
religiosity evaluated the ethical scenarios as more unethical than those with lower levels
of religious commitment. A survey of 473 Christian business students by Angelidis and
Ibrahim (2004) showed that high religiosity corresponded to greater concern about the
ethical component of corporate social responsibility and a weaker orientation toward
economic performance. Finally, Longenecker et al. (2004) investigated the relationship
between religiosity and ethics using a sample of 1234 businesspersons in the United
States. They found that, in response to 16 ethical scenarios, those respondents who
reported a high or moderate level of religious intensity (measured as importance of
religion) showed a higher level of ethical judgment compared to the respondents who
self-reported that religion was of no or low importance to them. Literature review,
therefore, suggests that there is a strong positive relationship between religion and ethics.
Thus, the following hypotheses were set forth:
H2a: Religiosity is positively related to ethical problem recognition.
H2b: Religiosity is positively related to ethical behavioral intentions.
Empirical research provides little evidence that religious affiliation per se (e.g,
Catholic or Protestant) has an effect on ethical judgments or behavioral intentions.
Knotts, Lopez, and Mesak (2000), did not find that affiliation with a particular organized
religion translated into more critical judgments about ethical scenarios. Longenecker et
al. (2004) did not find any difference between groups based on religious orientation in
terms of their responses to ethical scenarios, except for Evangelical Protestants who were
found to hold more ethical attitudes.
These findings are in line with Allport and Ross’ (1967) conceptualization of the
distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic religious orientation. According to Allport and
Ross (1967), people with an extrinsic religious orientation tend to use religion for their
own ends. People with this orientation can use religion as a source of solace and security,
to socialize, to affirm social status, etc. People with an intrinsic religious orientation “find
their master motive in religion. Other needs, strong as they may be, are regarded of less
ultimate significance, and they are, so far as possible, brought into harmony with the
religious beliefs and prescriptions” (Allport and Ross 1967, p. 434). Although some
people, according to Allport and Ross (1967), simultaneously endorse both extrinsic and
intrinsic attitudes, blurring the line between these two groups, the distinction between an
extrinsic and intrinsic orientation might explain why church attendance alone is rarely
positively related to ethics. Simply attending worship services might signify an extrinsic
orientation, the pragmatic use of religion where no relation to ethics can be expected. On
the other hand living one’s religion (intrinsic orientation) should lead to internalization of
moral values endorsed by one’s religion and translate into more ethical attitudes and
Some of the reviewed empirical studies explored the relationship between ethics
and behavioral measures of religiosity (usually measured as frequency of church/worship
attendance). Kidwell, Stevens, and Bethke (1987) used a sample of 100 managers and
found no difference in ethical judgments based on frequency of respondents’ church
attendance. Singhapakdi et al. (2000) also report very limited evidence in support of a
positive relationship between this particular dimension of religiosity (church attendance)
and ethical judgments and intentions. Conroy and Emerson (2004) used church
attendance as a proxy measure of religiosity and found a positive relationship between
this measure and ethical attitudes.
Limited empirical evidence in support of a positive relationship between church
attendance and ethical attitudes suggests that a more promising approach might lie in
focusing on various aspects of intrinsic religiosity. In application to morality, strong
internal religious orientation might signal itself in various ways. For instance, the
intrinsically religious individuals, those who strive to bring their lives in harmony with
their religious values and beliefs, would be expected to fully accept the ethical norms
prescribed by their religions. An intrinsically religious individual might be less inclined
to “bend” the moral rules to suit the need of the moment, thus demonstrating greater
commitment to ethical judgments and behaviors. Notably, most major religions require
their adepts not only to adhere to high morals standards but to continuously work on their
moral self-improvement. The present study explores the concept of commitment to moral
self-improvement and its relationship with religiosity and ethics of an individual.
Commitment to Moral Self-Improvement
Multiple studies of commitment explored and defined this construct from the
perspective of various disciplines and in various settings (see, for example, Iniesta and
Sanchez 2002, for a recent review). As Burke and Reitzes (1991) note, past
conceptualizations of commitment, tended to focus on a tie between an individual and
either 1) a line of activity, 2) particular role partners, or 3) an organization.
Applied to ethical development, the definitions of commitment that focus on
consistency in certain lines of activity appear to be most relevant. One of the first
influential conceptualizations of this type was suggested by Becker (1960) who defined
commitment primarily as consistent behavior. Conceptualization of commitment as
consistent behavior was further extended in the works by McCall and Simmons (1966),
Kanter (1968), Stryker (1968, 1980), Serpe (1987), and Burke and Reitzes (1991) from
the perspective of the identity theory.
Identity theory explains behavioral consistency through the concept of “identity
salience” or the relative salience of a given identity in relation to another (Serpe 1987, p.
44). According to the identity theory, one of the consequences of high level of
commitment to a social identity (e.g., being a religious person) is that people will work
harder to maintain positive appraisals of their relevant behaviors by other members of
society. A religious person, therefore, will be inclined to reflect on the morality of one’s
thoughts and actions. She will also tend to “tune in” to what other people might think of
the morality of her behavior and use these external inputs (appraisals) in fine-tuning her
moral development. Thus, identity theory helps to explain the mechanism contributing a
religious person’s enduring motivation for continuous moral self-improvement.
Teachings of most major religions endorse moral self-improvement as a valid and
laudable personal goal for people who practice these religions. This happens via many
mechanisms. By setting high standards of morality, most religious practices require that
their adherents constantly work on reaching those standards, resulting in constant moral
self-improvement. Many religious practices achieve this either by providing examples of
highly virtuous people (e.g., saints in Catholic or Orthodox Christianity) or by directly
drawing on the authority of the supreme being(s) to instill moral values in the adepts of a
religion. If a moral standard is set extremely high, if not unreachable by definition, the
adepts are in pursuit of an ever-distant goal. This creates a motivation for their
continuous work on moral self-improvement. Higher level of cognitive moral
development, in turn, is likely to result in setting even higher standards, basically sending
a signal: “No matter how moral you are, there is always opportunity for moral selfimprovement.” In terms of the Hunt-Vitell (1986) Theory of Ethics, the CMSI construct
represents part of the personal-level value system, very closely related to and influenced
by religious values. A highly religious person, therefore, is more likely to accept the need
for constant moral development as an internalized norm.
H3: Religiosity is positively related to commitment to moral self improvement
As stated previously, greater commitment to moral self-improvement is expected
to lead to achieving higher levels of cognitive moral development, resulting in greater
perceived importance of ethics.
H4: Commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) is positively related to
perceived importance of ethics.
Higher levels of cognitive moral development by definition allow for better
identification of moral problems. Once a dilemma is identified as an ethical problem,
greater levels of CMSI should lead to greater intention to behave consistently with one’s
moral norms, resulting in more ethical behavioral intentions.
H5a: Commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) is positively related to
ethical problem recognition.
H5b: Commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) is positively related to
ethical behavioral intentions.
Therefore, commitment to moral self-improvement is hypothesized to be
influenced by internalized religious beliefs and values. In turn, the CMSI is expected to
positively affect ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions. As stated
previously, previous research has well established that religiosity is positively related to
ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions. The hypothesized relationship is
illustrated in Fig. 1.
[Insert Fig. 1 here]
This relationship between variables implies that CMSI might mediate the effect of
religiosity on ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions:
H6a: Commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) mediates the effect of
religiosity on ethical problem recognition.
H6a: Commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) mediates the effect of
religiosity on ethical behavioral intentions.
Participants. The data were collected in classroom settings using a paper-andpencil questionnaire in a small private, religiously affiliated university in the Northwest.
The total of 244 valid questionnaires was completed by the participants. All participants
were undergraduate students who participated in the study in exchange for a partial
course credit. Less than half of the respondents were women (42 %). The majority of the
respondents described themselves as Catholics (56.9%), with the next largest religious
orientation represented in our sample being Protestant (16.3%), and other Christian
denominations (14.7%). Majority of the respondents (52.5%) self-reported that they
attend church one or more times a month. The overwhelming majority (89.4%) of
respondents self-reported that they had taken one or more business classes that either
were entirely devoted to the study of business ethics or had a significant business ethics
component. The age of the respondents ranged from 18 to 44, with a mean of 21 years.
The demographic profile of the participants is presented in Table 1.
[Insert Table 1 Here]
Independent Variables. Three independent variables pertaining to the above
hypotheses were included in a paper-and-pencil questionnaire.
Religiosity. Based on Allport and Ross’ (1967) conceptualization of the
distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity, an effort was made to measure
cognitive and behavioral religiosity separately. The cognitive measure of religiosity was
modified from La Barbera and Gurhan (1997) and presented respondents with a question:
“How important are religious beliefs in your life?” The behavioral measure of religiosity
asked respondents to indicate frequency of their church attendance on a scale from (1)
“never” to (7) “more than once a week.” While multi-item measures are generally
preferred, it has been suggested that “if the construct being measured is sufficiently
narrow or unambiguous to the respondent, a single-item measure may suffice” (Wanous,
Reichers, and Hudy, 1997). Single-item measures of religiosity are not uncommon in
ethics research (e.g., Angelidis and Ibrahim, 2004; Conroy and Emerson 2004; La
Barbera and Gurhan 1997; Longenecker, McKinney, and Moore, 2004).
Commitment to Moral Self-Improvement (CMSI). A 7-item measure was
developed in order to operationalize CMSI. The CMSI measure was developed
specifically for this study. The scale was developed following the procedures
recommended in the literature (e.g., Bagozzi 1994, Churchill 1979, Nunnally 1967).
Scale items were generated based on relevant literature and on discussions with
colleagues. Examples of typical items are “I would like to become a more ethical and
moral individual” and “I think that it is my obligation to continue improving my moral
self throughout my life.” The items were further analyzed using reliability analysis and
factor analysis (factor loadings and scree plot). The reliability analysis and the factor
analysis led to elimination of two items, resulting in a 5-item measure of CMSI which
can be seen in Appendix B. The reliability of the resulting measure was satisfactory, with
the Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.8 (Bagozzi 1994). The retained 5 items explained
approximately 46% of variance in the data. The responses to the CMSI items were
measured on a 9-point scale, ranging from (1) “completely disagree” to (9) “completely
Dependent Variables. The present study investigated the effects of the measured
independent variables on the perceived importance of ethics, recognition of ethical
problems, and ethical behavioral intentions.
Given our research objective of examining the influence of religiosity and CMSI
on ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions, specifically in the business
domain, business-related scenarios were chosen as a means of measuring respondents’
ethics. Business-related scenarios describing an ethically challenging situation have been
widely used in empirical research in the past (e.g., Conroy and Emerson 2004; Hunt and
Laverie 2004; Longenecker et al. 2004; Singhapakdi et al. 2000; Singhapakdi and Marta
2005). Four scenarios, all of which have been previously used in studies of ethics (e.g.,
Singhapakdi et al. 2000) were adopted from the study by Dornoff and Tankersley (1975).
The scenarios are presented in Appendix A.
Perceived Importance of Ethics. The PRESOR (Perceived Importance of Ethics
and Social Responsibility) scale developed by Singhapakdi, Vitell, Rallapalli, and Kraft
(1996) was used to measure perceived importance of ethics. PRESOR consists of three
sub-scales: “Social Responsibility and Profitability,” “Long-Term Gains,” and “ShortTerm Gains.” The responses were recorded on a scale from (1) Completely disagree to
(9) Completely agree. After recoding the negatively worded items, the scale was
subjected to reliability analysis. All three PRESOR subscales were reliable, with
Cronbach alpha being in the acceptable range from 0.68 (the Social Responsibility and
Profitability subscale) to 0.78 – 0.79 (the Short-Term Gains and the Long-Term Gains
scales, respectively).
Ethical Problem Recognition and Behavioral Intentions. As it was discussed
earlier, ethical problem recognition and ethical behavioral intentions were operationalized
using four ethics scenarios adopted from Dornoff and Tankersley (1975). Recognition of
Ethical Problems was measured as a degree of agreement with the following statement:
“Generally speaking, the situation described above involves an ethical problem” (adopted
from Singhapakdi et al. 2000) using a Likert scale from (1) Strongly disagree to (9)
Strongly agree. Ethical behavioral intentions were measured as an agreement with the
statement: “If you were [the business person] in this situation, what is the likelihood that
you will take the same course of actions that [the businessperson] did?” using a Likert
scale from (1) Very unlikely to (9) Very likely. This measure was also modified from
Singhapakdi et al. (2000).
Other Demographic Measures.
Respondents also provided information about
their academic status, extent of business ethics education, age, gender, and work
experience. They were also asked to indicate their religious affiliation, with the available
response categories being Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, and
Other (open-ended response option). The extent of business ethics education received by
the respondents was measured in two different ways. First of all, respondents were asked
to provide the information about their academic status. Since the survey was taken by the
students who are already taking classes in a business school, possible response options
included: sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The assumption was that the more years a
student spent studying at the university level, the more chances she had to be exposed to
ethics instruction. In addition to this, a respondents were asked to indicate how many
business school classes that they took which were either entirely devoted to study of
ethics or contained a significant ethics component, with the responses recorded using a 5point scale from (1) “none,” to (5) “over 8 classes” (see Table 1).
Results and Discussion
The data were analyzed using the SPSS 14.0 statistical software.
Effects of Religiosity on Perceived Importance of Ethics. To test Hypothesis 1,
which predicted a positive relationship between religiosity and perceived importance of
ethics (PRESOR), a series of separate linear regressions were run, using the cognitive
measure of religious intensity as a predictor and the three sub-scales of the PRESOR
scale as dependent variables. None of these models reached significance (df=240), thus
leading us to rejection of Hypothesis 1. The data provide no evidence of the direct effect
of religiosity on perceived importance of ethics.
Effects of Religiosity on Ethical Problem Recognition and Behavioral Intentions.
Hypotheses 2a and 2b predicted that religiosity is positively related to ethical problem
recognition and ethical behavioral intentions. Recall that problem recognition and
behavioral intentions were operationalized using four ethical scenarios. Hypotheses 2a
and 2b were tested with the help of a series of linear regressions where religiosity was a
predictor and problem recognition and behavioral intentions were dependent variables.
These regressions were run separately for each dependent variable and repeated for each
scenario. The results of this analysis are presented in Table 2.
[Insert Table 2 here]
As can be seen from Table 2, the direction of the effect was as predicted for both
dependent variables. Those respondents who self-reported greater religiosity were more
likely to agree that a situation described in a scenario was an ethical problem. Highly
religious individuals were also less likely to agree that they would behave in the same
manner as a businessperson in a scenario. Disagreement with the latter statement
indicated a more ethical behavioral intention. However, these relationships reached
significance for only 2 of the 8 dependent variables.
Further analysis indicates that on a scale from 1 to 9, the means of the problem
recognition variable were fairly high for the first three of the four scenarios: 7.11, 6.88,
and 8.0, respectively. The problem recognition mean for the fourth scenario was 5.23.
Scenario 4 might have been considered to be more harmless than the other three
scenarios, resulting in a lower mean of problem recognition. The means of behavioral
intentions (lower numbers indicate ethical behavioral intentions) for all four scenarios
were fairly low: 2.3, 3.36, and 1.8 for scenarios 1, 2, and 3, respectively. The mean of
behavioral intentions for scenario 4 was higher (4.31), possibly reflecting consequences
of this scenario not being perceived as a serious ethical problem. Overall, Hypothesis 2a
was not supported and Hypothesis 2b received limited support.
Effects of Religiosity on Commitment to Moral Self-Improvement (CMSI).
Hypothesis 3 predicted that religiosity was positively related to commitment to moral
self-improvement (CMSI). A regression analysis revealed that religiosity was a
significant predictor of commitment to moral self-improvement (β=0.217, t(240)=3.436,
p=0.001), explaining 4.7% (R2=0.047) of the variance in CMSI scores, thus supporting
Hypothesis 3.
Effects of CMSI on Perceived Importance of Ethics. Hypothesis 4 was tested with
the help of three linear regressions where CMSI was a predictor and the PRESOR subscales served as dependent variables. The effect of CMSI on the Social Responsibility
sub-scale was not significant (t(242)=-0.386, n.s.). CMSI, however, was a significant
predictor of the Long-Term Gains subscale of the PRESOR scale (t (242)=5.408,
p<0.001) and of the Short-Term Gains subscale (t(242)=-3.433, p<0.01). Overall, the data
yields evidence in support of Hypothesis 4. Respondents with high commitment to moral
self-improvement were more likely to endorse the statements of the Long-Term Gains
subscale (typical items: “Being ethical and socially responsible is the most important
thing a firm can do” or “Business has social responsibility beyond making a profit.”) At
the same time, respondents with high level of commitment to moral self-improvement
tended to disagree with the statements from the Short-Term Gains subscale (typical items
“The most important concern for a firm is making a profit, even if it means bending or
breaking the rules” or “Efficiency is much more important to a firm than whether or not
the firm is seen as ethical or socially responsible.”)
Effects of CMSI on Problem Recognition and Behavioral Intentions. Hypotheses
H5a and H5b predicted that commitment to moral self-improvement is positively related
to recognition of ethical problems and to ethical behavioral intentions. These hypotheses
were tested with the help of separate simple regressions using CMSI as a predictor and
ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions in response to each ethical scenario
as outcome variables. Table 3 summarizes the results of these analyses.
[Insert Table 3 here]
As it can be seen in Table 3, the CMSI was a significant predictor of ethical
problem recognition and behavioral intentions in response to all four ethical scenarios,
thus supporting Hypothesis 5a and 5b. Greater commitment to moral self-improvement
corresponded to greater levels of ethical problem recognition. At the same time,
respondents with high levels of CMSI were less likely to agree with the statement that
they might engage in ethically questionable behavior described in the scenarios.
CMSI as a Mediator of the Effects of Religiosity on Ethics. Hypotheses 6a and 6b
state that CMSI mediates the effects of religiosity on ethical problem recognition and
behavioral intentions. As it was determined before, CMSI is positively related to
religiosity. A test was carried out to explore whether the effect of religiosity on ethical
attitudes and intentions was mediated by CMSI. This test was performed using the
guidelines outlined in Baron and Kenny (1986). As stated by Baron and Kenny (1986), to
demonstrate mediation, three conditions have to be met: (a) the independent variable
must affect the mediator; (b) the independent variable has to affect the dependent
variable, and (c) when regressing the dependent variable on both the independent variable
and on the mediator, the mediator must affect the dependent variable. If these effects are
all observed in the predicted direction, then the effect of the independent variable on the
dependent variable should be less in the third equation (equation (c) above) than in the
second (equation (b) above).
Based on the existing theory, this study made an assumption that religiosity
affects CMSI, while simultaneously affecting ethical problem recognition and behavioral
intentions. As has been demonstrated, CMSI at the same time affects ethical problem
recognition and behavioral intention. Thus, religiosity serves as an independent variable
and measures of ethics serve as dependent variables, while CMSI is hypothesized to be a
possible mediator of the effect of religiosity on the measures of ethics: ethical problem
recognition and behavioral intentions.
The opportunities for conducting mediation analysis were limited for this set of
data since the effect of religiosity on ethics was observed only for ethical behavioral
intentions and only for two scenarios. Thus, the sequence of tests recommended by Baron
and Kenny (1986) could be applied to only these two dependent variables.
For the first scenario, the effect of religiosity on behavioral intentions was
significant (t (240)= -2.22, p<0.05). The effect of CMSI on behavioral intentions for this
scenario was also significant (t(240) - 3.04, p<0.01). When CMSI was added as a
predictor to a regression of behavioral intentions on religiosity, the CMSI remained a
significant predictor of behavioral intentions (t(239)= - 2.66, p<0.01). However, when
CMSI was introduced as a predictor in the third equation, the effect of religiosity dropped
to non significance (t(239)=-1.62, n.s.). According to Baron and Kenny (1986) this
signifies that CMSI fully mediates the effect of religiosity on ethical intentions in our
For the second scenario, the effect of religiosity on behavioral intentions was
significant (t(240)=5.59, p<0.05). CMSI remained a significant predictor (t(240) - 3.63,
p<0.001) of behavioral intentions for this scenario as well. When CMSI was added as a
predictor to a regression of behavioral intentions on religiosity, CMSI remained a
significant predictor (t(239)= - 2.66, p<0.01). However, when CMSI was introduced as a
predictor in the third equation, the effect of religiosity dropped in significance (t (239)=1.65, n.s.) thus demonstrating that CMSI fully mediates the effect of religiosity.
Effects of CMSI on the Extent of Business Ethics Education. In order to achieve
further insight into the effects of the CMSI, a correlation between CMSI and the selfreported extent of business ethics education received by respondents. This correlation
was weak and not significant (r=0.01, n.s.), indicating no relationship between CMSI and
business ethics education. This finding seems counterintuitive because logically, one
would expect that high-CMSI subjects would opt for taking more business ethics classes
as opposed to low-CMSI subjects, resulting in a systematic relationship between the two
variables. This relationship was not observed in our data. The lack of the relationship
between CMSI and ethics education can perhaps be attributed to the fact that business
majors have of a high number of required courses. This means less flexibility in choosing
between classes. Even if the individual maintains high level of commitment to moral self-
improvement, she has limited opportunities to translate it into a specific course-selection
personal strategy.
General Discussion
The present study contributes to the body of research on business ethics in several
different ways. From the theoretical perspective, the study extends our understanding of
factors contributing to an individual’s moral development.
First of all, the study extends the research on religiosity by introducing and testing
a new construct, commitment to moral self improvement (CMSI). Secondly, it reexamines the effects of religiosity on ethics.
A 5-item measure of CMSI was developed for the purpose of this study and used
to test the hypotheses about the relationship between religiosity, commitment to moral
self-improvement, and ethical problem recognition and behavioral intentions. Table 4
presents the summary of the hypotheses and findings of the study.
[Insert Table 4 here]
Based on the results of this present study, highly religious people tend to have
higher levels of commitment to moral self-improvement. Apparently, commitment to
moral self-improvement results in higher levels of moral cognitive development: higher
levels of CMSI in our study translated in a belief about greater importance of business
ethics. The data provides evidence that CMSI is positively related to respondents’ ability
to recognize ethical problems. High-CMSI respondents in our sample also tended to
declare more ethical behavioral intentions in regard to the ethical business scenarios used
in the study.
Compared to religiosity, the CMSI actually turned out to be a better predictor of
perceived importance of ethics, ethical problem recognition, and ethical behavioral
intentions. Regarding religiosity, this study provided limited support to the notion that
higher religiosity is related to higher ethics. Empirical evidence, consistent with this
proposition, was limited to behavioral intentions and was observed in response to only
two ethical scenarios. This finding is contrary to the results of several empirical studies
where such relationship was observed (e.g., Singhapakdi et al. (2000), Knotts et al.
(2000), Longenecker et al. (2004)).
Several factors might explain why the effect of religiosity on ethics was not
observed in this study. First of all, this study used a student sample that was very
homogenous in terms of their religiosity: the majority of the respondents (64.1%) selfreported high levels of importance of religion in their life (scores of 6 and above on a
scale from (1) extremely unimportant to (9) extremely important). This comes as no
surprise given that the data were collected in a private, religious-affiliated university.
Homogeneity has a potential to suppress correlation values. Glass and Hopkins (1996),
for instance, point out that: “Other things being equal, the greater the variability between
observations, the greater the value of r [regression coefficient] (p. 121).” The opposite is
true as well: if variable A is homogeneous, the correlations between this variable and
some other variable B will be much less than if variable A were very heterogeneous.
Further analysis yielded evidence consistent with our hypothesis regarding the
mediating role of CMSI. The data revealed that CMSI mediated the effect of religiosity
on ethical behavioral intentions in the two of the four ethical scenarios where this
analysis could be conducted.
In terms of Allport and Ross (1967) conceptual distinction between intrinsic
(religion for the sake of religion) and extrinsic (use of religion for personal goals)
religious orientation, CMSI is closer to the pure intrinsic orientation. The fact that in our
highly homogenous (in terms of religiosity) sample, CMSI turned out to be a variable
better capable of predicting ethical judgments and ethical behavioral intentions than a
measure of religiosity might be interpreted as additional support to Allport and Ross
(1967) conceptualization of religiosity. Research on religiosity and ethics might gain if
the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity is taken into consideration when
designing future studies.
Taken together, these results suggest that commitment to moral self-improvement
is a promising construct that warrants further investigation in studies of ethics, especially
in the context of ethics education.
Future Research
Future research could also use a less homogeneous sample than the present study.
As it was discussed, homogeneity of the sample might have attenuated the effects of
religiosity on dependent variables. Design of future studies could also employ a broader
range of dependent variables going beyond ethical problem recognition and behavioral
intentions. Possible variables of interest could include various measures of ethical
judgment, the Defining Issues Test measure (Rest 1999), or the measures of actual ethical
behavior, as opposed to measures of behavioral intentions. Other extensions of this study
could include systematic manipulation of severity of ethical situations described in the
scenarios (as an independent variable) and exploring its effect on dependent variables.
This present study made a contribution to research on ethics by introducing the
construct of commitment to moral self-improvement (CMSI) and demonstrating that this
variable mediates the effects of religiosity on ethical sensitivity and behavioral intentions.
It was demonstrated that religiosity positively contributes to development of CMSI. This
leaves unanswered a number of questions. How can CMSI be formed in non-religious
people? Are non-religious people systematically lower in CMSI than religious people, or
is the relationship between the two constructs more complex?
Future research could focus on further development of the CMSI scale which is
currently “tailored” to the education domain (e.g., two items of the CMSI scale make
specific reference to “university education.”). Further development of this scale could
increase its generalizabiility.
Future research might continue examination of CMSI while developing and
testing more comprehensive models that would include a wider range of explanatory
variables. This present study dealt with a very homogenous sample consisting of people
of similar education, age, socioeconomic status, level of religiosity. Future research could
concentrate on examining whether each of these variables is capable of influencing the
level of commitment to moral self-improvement. In terms of practical applications for
CMSI research, the investigation of possibility of increasing the level of CMSI via ethics
education could be a viable avenue for future research.
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Academic Status
Religious Orientation
Other (e.g., nondenominational Christian)
Church Attendance
Once a year
A few times a year
Once a month
2-3 times a month
Once a week
More than once a week
Work Experience
Had work experience
work 12
Number of business ethics classes taken at the university level
Over 8 classes
Dependent Variables
Scenario 1 – Failure To Honor Warranty
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-2.223 <0.05
Scenario 2 – Over-Eager Salesman
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-2.364 <0.05
Scenario 3 - Taking Advantage Of Underprivileged Consumers
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-1.248 n.s., p=0.213
Scenario 4 - Withholding Information From Consumers
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-1.589 n.s., p=0.113
model, F
(df=1, 241)
n.s., p=0.213
n.s., p=0.113
Dependent Variables
Scenario 1 – Failure To Honor Warranty
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-3.042 p<0.01
Scenario 2 – Over-Eager Salesman
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-3.634 p<0.001
Scenario 3 - Taking Advantage Of Underprivileged Consumers
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-3.202 p<0.01
Scenario 4 - Withholding Information From Consumers
Problem Recognition
Behavioral Intentions
-2.746 p<0.01
model, F
(df=1, 241)
Description of Hypothesis
Hypothesis 1
Hypothesis 2a
Hypothesis 2b
Hypothesis 3
Hypothesis 4
Hypothesis 5a
Hypothesis 5b
Hypothesis 6a
Hypothesis 6b
Religiosity → Importance of Ethics
Religiosity → Problem Recognition
Religiosity → Behavioral Intentions
Religiosity → CMSI
CMSI → Importance of Ethics
CMSI → Problem Recognition
CMSI → Behavioral Intentions
Religiosity → CMSI → Problem Recognition
Religiosity → CMSI → Behavioral Intentions
Results of Hypothesis
Not supported
Not supported
Partial support
Mostly supported
Was not tested
Partial support
SCENARIO 1 (Failure To Honor Warranty)
A person bought a new car from a franchised automobile dealership in the local area.
Eight months after the car was purchased, he began having problems with the
transmission. He took the car back to the dealer, and some minor adjustments were made.
During the next few months he continually had a similar problem with the transmission
slipping. Each time the dealer made only minor adjustments on the car. During the 13th
month after the car had been bought, the man returned to the dealer because the
transmission was again not functioning properly. At this time, the transmission was
completely overhauled.
Action: Since the warranty was for only one year (12 months from the date of purchase),
the dealer charged the full price for parts and labor.
SCENARIO 2 (Over-Eager Salesman)
A young man, recently hired as a salesman for a local retail store, has been working very
hard to favorably impress his boss with his selling ability. At times, this young man,
anxious for an order, has been a little over-eager. To get the order, he exaggerates the
value of the item or withholds relevant information concerning the product he is trying to
sell. No fraud or deceit is intended by his actions, he is simply over-eager.
Action: His boss, the owner of the retail store, is aware of this salesman’s actions, but he
has done nothing to stop such practice.
SCENARIO 3 (Taking Advantage Of Underprivileged Consumers)
A retail grocery chain operates several stores throughout the area including one in the
city’s inner city (the so-called “ghetto”) area. Independent studies have shown that prices
do tend to be higher and there is less of a selection of products in this particular store than
in the other locations.
Action: On the day welfare checks are received in this area of the city, the retailer
increases prices on all of his merchandise.
SCENARIO 4 (Withholding Information From Consumers)
Sets of a well-known brand of “good” china dinnerware are advertised on sale at a
considerable discount by a local retailer. Several patterns of a typical 45-piece service for
eight are listed. The customer may also buy any “odd” pieces which are available in stock
(for instance, a butter dish, a gravy bowl, etc.). The advertisement does not indicate,
however, that these patterns have been discontinued by the manufacturer.
Action: The retailer offers this information only if a customer directly asks if the
merchandise is discontinued.
1. I would like to become a more ethical and moral individual.
2. I would like to receive more ethics instruction as part of my university education.
3. I think that I could benefit from receiving more ethics education while I study in a
4. I think that it is my obligation to continue improving my moral self throughout my life.
5. No matter how highly moral you are, there is always opportunity for improvement.