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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
Research
Mar 1, 2015

Anxious, Threatened, and Also Unethical: How Anxiety Makes Individuals Feel Threatened and Commit Unethical Acts

Abstract

People often experience anxiety in the workplace. Across 6 studies, we show that anxiety, both induced and measured, can lead to self-interested unethical behavior. In Studies 1 and 2, we find that compared with individuals in a neutral state, anxious individuals are more willing (a) to participate in unethical actions in hypothetical scenarios and (b) to engage in more cheating to make money in situations that require truthful self-reports. In Studies 3 and 4, we explore the psychological mechanism underlying unethical behaviors when experiencing anxiety. We suggest and find that anxiety increases threat perception, which, in turn, results in self-interested unethical behaviors. Study 5 shows that, relative to participants in the neutral condition, anxious individuals find their own unethical actions to be less problematic than similar actions of others. In Study 6, data from subordinate–supervisor dyads demonstrate that experienced anxiety at work is positively related with experienced threat and unethical behavior. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

Note: Research papers posted on ResearchGate, including any findings, may differ from the final version chosen for publication in academic journals.


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