Short horizons and tempting situations: Lack of continuity to our future selves leads to unethical decision making and behavior

Hal E. Hershfield*, Taya R. Cohen, Leigh Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations

Abstract

People who feel continuity with their future selves are more likely to behave in ethically responsible ways as compared to people who lack continuity with their future selves. We find that individual differences in perceived similarity to one's future self predicts tolerance of unethical business decisions (Studies 1a and 1b), and that the consideration of future consequences mediates the extent to which people regard inappropriate negotiation strategies as unethical (Study 2). We reveal that low future self-continuity predicts unethical behavior in the form of lies, false promises, and cheating (Studies 3 and 4), and that these relationships hold when controlling for general personality dimensions and trait levels of self-control (Study 4). Finally, we establish a causal relationship between future self-continuity and ethical judgments by showing that when people are prompted to focus on their future self (as opposed to the future), they express more disapproval of unethical behavior (Study 5).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-310
Number of pages13
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume117
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Keywords

  • Ethical decision making
  • Future self-continuity
  • Intertemporal choice
  • Unethical behavior
  • Unethical decision making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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