The Usefulness of Social Norm Theory in Empirical Business Ethics Research: A Review and Suggestions for Future Research
40 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 26, 2016
In response to recent calls to extend the underlying theories used in the empirical ethical decision-making literature (O’Fallon and Butterfield 2005; Craft 2013), we review the usefulness of social norm theory in empirical business ethics research. We begin by identifying the seeds of social norm theory in Adam Smith’s (1759/1790) seminal work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Next, we review recent theory in social norm activation by Bicchieri (2006) and compare the new theory to two theoretical frameworks found in the empirical business ethics literature: Kohlberg’s (1969, 1976) theory of moral development and Cialdini and Trost’s (1998) taxonomy of social norms. We argue that the new theory is capable of providing useful insights by emphasizing the ability of contextual cues to alter behavior by forming common expectations for social norm behavior. To demonstrate this usefulness, we present examples where the theory has been effectively applied in experimental accounting research. Finally, we provide specific examples where the theory may prove useful in empirical business ethics research.
Keywords: Empirical business ethics research, Social norm theory, Adam Smith’s moral theory, Bicchieri’s model
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