Professionalism and Moral Behavior: Does a Professional Self-Conception Make One More Unethical?

Posted: 4 Apr 2013 Last revised: 14 Sep 2014

Date Written: April 4, 2013

Abstract

In this paper, I rely on recent literature on moral licensing and consequences of the amoral, rational, and impersonal and emotionally detached approaches to ethical decision-making to develop and empirically test the theoretical argument that professional self-conceptions lead individuals to engage in unethical behaviors. Four studies assessed this proposition. The results of Study 1 demonstrated that individuals assuming the role of a professional employee compared to a regular employee were more likely to act unethically. Study 2 showed that conceiving of oneself as a professional, and not the accessibility of the concept of professionalism, per se, was needed to increase unethical acts. Study 3 confirmed that participants’ professional self-conceptions mediated the effect of taking the role of a professional employee compared to a regular employee on increased unethical acts. Study 4, a survey study of working adults from different occupations, showed that membership in occupations traditionally associated with professions, compared to other occupations, led to higher unethical behaviors and that professional self-conceptions mediated the effect of occupational membership on unethical behaviors. Together, the results of these studies demonstrate that professional self-conceptions, either measured or manipulated, can increase individuals’ unethical behaviors. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: Institutional corruption, Professional self-conception, Ethics, Profession, Professional schema, Professional credentials

Suggested Citation

Kouchaki, Maryam, Professionalism and Moral Behavior: Does a Professional Self-Conception Make One More Unethical? (April 4, 2013). Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, No. 4. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2243811 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2243811

Maryam Kouchaki (Contact Author)

Northwestern Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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