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Who Stands at the Top and Bottom of the Slippery Slope?

35 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2011 Last revised: 24 Sep 2014

Tim Brown

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Accountancy

Kristina M. Rennekamp

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Nick Seybert

University of Maryland - Department of Accounting & Information Assurance

Wenjie Zhu

University of Maryland - Department of Accounting & Information Assurance

Date Written: September 23, 2014

Abstract

Prior research argues that sequential decisions lead to a slippery slope toward unethical or fraudulent behavior, with little evidence to support such claims. We conduct two experiments which demonstrate the existence of the slippery slope in a controlled setting, and investigate how it leads “good people” (low-Machiavellians) to do “bad things.” The first experiment manipulates whether the potential to overstate personal performance in order to earn excess monetary compensation increases or decreases across two experimental tasks. We find that smaller initial incentives to misreport followed by larger subsequent incentives to misreport lead to greater subsequent misreporting by low-Machiavellians. High-Machiavellians do not exhibit this slippery slope pattern of behavior. Our second experiment manipulates the length of time between tasks to examine whether the effects of misreporting incentives on slippery slope behavior diminish as opportunities to misreport are separated. We again observe slippery slope behavior among low-Ms at the short horizon, but not at the long horizon. Our study confirms the existence of a slippery slope toward unethical behavior, highlights individual differences along an important personality trait, and suggests that slippery slope behavior is likely to be magnified when individuals are presented with frequent opportunities to misreport.

Keywords: slippery slope, misconduct, fraud, moral reasoning, Machiavellianism, cognitive dissonance

JEL Classification: M00, K00, K20, M10, M14, M40, M41

Suggested Citation

Brown, Tim and Rennekamp, Kristina M. and Seybert, Nick and Zhu, Wenjie, Who Stands at the Top and Bottom of the Slippery Slope? (September 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1810833 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1810833

Tim Brown

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Accountancy ( email )

1206 South Sixth Street
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

Kristina M. Rennekamp

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management ( email )

401P - Sage Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-0500 (Phone)

Nick Seybert (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - Department of Accounting & Information Assurance ( email )

Robert H. Smith School of Business
College Park, MD 20742-9157
United States

Wenjie Zhu

University of Maryland - Department of Accounting & Information Assurance ( email )

Robert H. Smith School of Business
College Park, MD 20742-9157
United States

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