Ethical Orientation and Research Misconduct Among Business Researchers Under the Condition of Autonomy and Competition

J Bus Ethics. 2022 Jan 29;1-18. doi: 10.1007/s10551-022-05043-y. Online ahead of print.


The topics of ethical conduct and governance in academic research in the business field have attracted scientific and public attention. The concern is that research misconduct in organizations such as business schools and universities might result in practitioners, policymakers, and researchers grounding their decisions on biased research results. This study addresses ethical research misconduct by investigating whether the ethical orientation of business researchers is related to the likelihood of research misconduct, such as selective reporting of research findings. We distinguish between deontological and consequentialist ethical orientations and the competition between researchers and investigate the moderating role of their perceived autonomy. Based on global data collected from 1031 business scholars, we find that researchers with a strong deontological ethical orientation are less prone to misconduct. This effect is robust against different levels of perceived autonomy and competition. In contrast, researchers having a consequentialist ethical orientation is positively associated with misconduct in business research. High levels of competition in the research environment reinforce this effect. Our results reveal a potentially toxic combination comprising researchers with a strong consequentialist orientation who are embedded in highly competitive research environments. Our research calls for the development of ethical orientations grounded on maxims rather than anticipated consequences among researchers. We conclude that measures for ethical governance in business schools should consider the ethical orientation that underlies researchers' decision-making and the organizational and institutional environment in which business researchers are embedded.

Keywords: Autonomy; Competition; Deontological/consequentialist ethics; Ethical orientation; Research misconduct; Survey.