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The Role of Ethics and National Culture
Individual Differences and Ethics

Our values and personality influence how ethical we behave. Situational factors, rewards, and punishments following unethical choices as well as a company’s culture are extremely important, but the role of personality and personal values should not be ignored.

Research reveals that people who have an economic value orientation, that is, those who value acquiring money and wealth, tend to make more unethical choices.

In terms of personality, employees with an external locus of control were found to make more unethical choices. Hegarty, W. H., & Sims, H. P. (1978).

Ethical Behavior

Our perceptual processes are clear influences on whether or not we behave ethically and how we respond to other people’s unethical behaviors.

It seems that self-enhancement bias operates for our ethical decisions as well:

We tend to overestimate how ethical we are in general. Our self-ratings of ethics tend to be higher than how other people rate us.
This belief can create a glaring problem: If we think that we are more ethical than we are, we will have little motivation to improve. Therefore, understanding how other people perceive our actions is important to get a better understanding of ourselves.

(X) Unethical behavior
How we respond to the unethical behavior of others will, to a large extent, depend on the attributions we make. If we attribute responsibility to the person in question, we are more likely to punish that person.

In a study on sexual harassment that occurred after a workplace romance turned sour, results showed that if we attribute responsibility to the victim, we are less likely to punish the harasser. Pierce, C. A., Broberg, B. J., McClure, J. R., & Aguinis, H. (2004).

Responding to sexual harassment complaints: Effects of a dissolved workplace romance on decision-making standards. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 95, 66–82. Therefore, how we make attributions in a given situation will determine how we respond to others’ actions, including their unethical behaviors.

Individual Differences Around the Globe
Values that people care about vary around the world. In fact, when we refer to a country’s culture, we are referring to values that distinguish one nation from others.

In other words, there is systematic variance in individuals’ personality and work values around the world, and this variance explains people’s behavior, attitudes, preferences, and the transferability of management practices to other cultures.

Note
When we refer to a country’s values, this does not mean that everyone in a given country shares the same values. People differ within and across nations. There will always be people who care more about money and others who care more about relationships within each culture. Yet there are also national differences in the percentage of people holding each value.

Personality traits
Are personality traits universal? Researchers found that personality traits identified in Western cultures translate well to other cultures.

For example, the five-factor model of personality is universal in that it explains how people differ from each other in over 79 countries. At the same time, there is variation among cultures in the dominant personality traits. In some countries, extroverts seem to be the majority, and in some countries, the dominant trait is low emotional stability.

For example, people from Europe and the United States are characterized by higher levels of extraversion compared to those from Asia and Africa. There are many factors explaining why some personality traits are dominant in some cultures.

Human Perception

Is basic human perception universal? It seems that there is variation around the globe in how we perceive other people as well as ourselves. One difference is the importance of the context.

Studies show that when perceiving people or objects, Westerners pay more attention to the individual, while Asians pay more attention to the context. For example, in one study, when judging the emotion felt by the person, the Americans mainly looked at the face of the person in question, while the Japanese also considered the emotions of the people surrounding the focal person.

Variation
There seems to be some variation in the perceptual biases we commit as well. For example, human beings have a tendency to self-enhance.

We see ourselves in a more positive light than others do. Yet, the traits in which we self-enhance are culturally dependent. In Western cultures, people may overestimate how independent and self-reliant they are. In Asian cultures, such traits are not necessarily desirable, so they may not embellish their degree of independence.

Yet, they may overestimate how cooperative and loyal to the group they are because these traits are more desirable in collectivistic cultures.