Menlo College Professor Shows How Self-conscious Emotions Fuel Ethical Decisions

Leslie Sekerka, Ph.D.

Atherton, CA – November 29, 2017 – A seminal empirical research article authored by Dr. Leslie E. Sekerka, Menlo College Professor of Management and Director of the Ethics in Action Center, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research. The paper, “Understanding the Consequences of Pride and Shame: How Self-evaluations Guide Moral Decision Making in Business” is now in press.

The article, written with her colleagues Dr. Rick Bagozzi (University of Michigan) and Dr. Francesco Sguera (Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics), is a study that engaged Menlo College students, faculty, and staff in an ethical decision making activity. Simulating an oil spill, the experiment induced participants to experience self-conscious emotions, enabling the researchers to pursue their research question: Do self-conscious emotions motivate individuals toward moral action?

“Understanding how morally responsible and irresponsible business actions lead to feelings of pride and shame can help us learn more about what encourages moral decision making,” said Sekerka. Her study examines how these particular self-conscious emotions interact with a person’s ‘other-orientation,’ which is made up of other-directed values and perspective-taking.

Through an experimental design, the study examined what contributes to decisions that either promote the organization or repair the damage done to it. Sekerka added that, “This particular study extends the literature. We helped to clarify nuances between self-conscious and moral emotions by testing the specific influence of pride and shame on moral decision making. Part of our ongoing goal with adult moral development scholarship is to better understand how emotions can naturally support an ability to go beyond our own selfish interests and to consider those around us as we make decisions in business and everyday life.”

Current world-wide events – from oil spills to discrimination and sexual misconduct – highlight the importance of understanding the dynamics of moral decision making. Sekerka’s article is therefore a timely and topical contribution toward understanding factors that can have demonstrably favorable ethical ramifications for a given corporation, our environment, or even more broadly, to our society at large.