Moral symbols: A necklace of garlic against unethical requests

Sreedhari D. Desai, Maryam Kouchaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


This paper investigates whether, by exposing superiors to moral symbols, subordinates can discourage their superiors from asking them to perform unethical acts. Findings from five laboratory studies and one organizational survey study demonstrated that exposure to moral symbols displayed by the subordinates dissuades superiors from both engaging in unethical behaviors themselves and asking their subordinates to engage in unethical behavior. This paper shows that the display of moral symbols leads to two main consequences: (1) the activation of the concept of morality and increases in individuals' moral awareness to decrease unethical behavior, and (2) eliciting inferences about the moral character of the displayer to lower the likelihood of that person being subjected to unethical directives. Additionally, our findings demonstrate that moral symbols influence ethical decisions without provoking hidden backlash effects against those who display them. In sum, our findings show that followers can serve as a form of social influence to guide their leader's behavior and reduce the occurrence of unethical acts in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-28
Number of pages22
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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