The Deception Spiral: Corporate Obfuscation Leads to Perceptions of Immorality and Cheating Behavior

David M. Markowitz*, Maryam Kouchaki, Jeffrey T. Hancock, Francesca Gino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

In four studies, we evaluated how corporate misconduct relates to language patterns, perceptions of immorality, and unethical behavior. First, we analyzed nearly 190 codes of conduct from S&P 500 manufacturing companies and observed that corporations with ethics infractions had more linguistically obfuscated codes than corporations without ethics infractions. Next, we tested perceptions of a company based on values statements modified by obfuscation (Study 2). Participants perceived low-obfuscation companies as more moral, warmer, and more trustworthy than high-obfuscation companies. Finally, behavioral experiments (Studies 3a and 3b) revealed that group members cheat more after reading a high-obfuscation values statement than a low-obfuscation values statement. The results provide evidence of a potentially troublesome cycle: corporate unethicality has linguistic traces, can affect how people appraise a company, and can change ethical behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-296
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Volume40
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • corporate unethicality
  • deception
  • deception spiral
  • obfuscation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'The Deception Spiral: Corporate Obfuscation Leads to Perceptions of Immorality and Cheating Behavior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this