Bringing Ethics into Focus: How Regulatory Focus and Risk Preferences Influence (Un)ethical Behavior

31 Pages Posted: 20 May 2010

See all articles by Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Joshua D. Margolis

Harvard University


In four laboratory studies, we find that regulatory focus induced by situational cues (such as the framing of a task or incentive schemes) influences people’s likelihood to cross ethical boundaries. A promotion focus leads individuals to be more likely to act unethically than a prevention focus (Studies 1, 2, and 3). These higher levels of dishonesty are explained by the influence of a person’s induced regulatory focus on his or her behavior toward risk. A promotion focus leads to risk-seeking behaviors, while a prevention focus leads to risk avoidance (Study 3). Through higher levels of dishonesty, promotion focus also results in higher levels of virtuous behavior (Studies 2 and 3), thus providing evidence for compensatory ethics. Our results also demonstrate that an organization’s framing of ethics influences individuals’ ethical behavior and does so differently depending on an individual’s induced regulatory focus (Study 4).

Suggested Citation

Gino, Francesca and Margolis, Joshua D., Bringing Ethics into Focus: How Regulatory Focus and Risk Preferences Influence (Un)ethical Behavior. IACM 23rd Annual Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Joshua D. Margolis

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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