The power of moral concerns in predicting whistleblowing decisions

James A. Dungan*, Liane Young, Adam Waytz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Whistleblowers risk great personal cost to expose injustice. While their actions are sometimes deemed morally courageous, existing evidence that whistleblowers are primarily motivated by moral concerns is mixed. Moreover, little is known about the extent to which moral concerns predict whistleblowing relative to other organizational and situational factors. To address these gaps, we present two studies demonstrating the power of moral concerns in predicting whistleblowing decisions. Study 1 uses a large cross-sectional dataset of federal employees (N = 42,020) to test how moral concerns predict real-world whistleblowing decisions relative to other factors. Study 2 provides a more controlled replication of the association between moral concerns and whistleblowing decisions in an online sample of the U.S. workforce. Results revealed that moral concerns consistently predicted whistleblowing decisions above and beyond other organizational and situational factors. Specifically, whistleblowing decisions were associated with a tradeoff between moral concerns; whereby, concerns for the fair treatment of others beyond one's organization were associated with reporting unethical behavior, while loyalty to one's organization was associated with not reporting unethical behavior. Organizational factors, such as whether the organization educates its employees about how to disclose wrongdoing, showed a somewhat weaker association with whistleblowing decisions across studies. However, they were the only significant predictors of how people blew the whistle; that is, reporting unethical behavior through internal versus external channels. Together, these findings reveal important psychological motivations underlying whistleblowing, highlighting the power of moral concerns in these decisions and supporting conceptualizations of whistleblowing as an important example of moral courage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103848
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Fairness
  • Loyalty
  • Moral courage
  • Organizational citizenship behavior
  • Whistleblowing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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