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Bad apples in bad (business) barrels: The love of money, machiavellianism, risk tolerance, and unethical behavior

Thomas Li‐Ping Tang (Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA)
Yuh‐Jia Chen (Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida, USA)
Toto Sutarso (Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 7 March 2008

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to attempt to use several variables measured at Time 1 to predict cluster membership (bad apples vs good apples) measured at Time 2 and investigate possible differences between business and psychology students in unethical behavior.

Design/methodology/approach

Business and psychology students' propensity to engage in unethical behavior (PUB), the love of money, machiavellianism, and risk tolerance at Time 1 and propensity to engage in unethical behavior at Time 2 (four weeks later) were measured. Cluster analysis was used to analyze Time 2 data and bad apples (Cluster 1, high propensity to engage in unethical behavior) and good apples (Cluster 2, low propensity to engage in unethical behavior) were identified. Then all the variables measured at Time 1 were used to predict cluster membership (bad apples vs good apples) measured at Time 2.

Findings

In three discriminant analyses, it was found that variables at Time 1 predicted cluster membership at Time 2 for the whole sample and the business sample, but not for the psychology sample. The differences between bad apples and good apples were significant for business students, but not significant for psychology students. Correlation data showed that the love of money was significantly correlated with machiavellianism and risk tolerance.

Research limitations/implications

Students are not assigned randomly to business and psychology courses. Students' behavioral intention, not actual unethical behavior, is measured here. Can professors change people's love of money, machiavellianism, risk tolerance, and the propensity to engage in unethical behavior and enhance students' and future managers' ethical decision making? This issue deserves critical attention in future research.

Practical implications

It is plausible that corruptions and scandals are caused not by lack of intelligence, but by lack of wisdom, or virtue. Professors and researchers may have to focus on ethics training, in general, and the bad apples in bad (business) barrels (mostly male business students), in particular, identify the most critical time and methods in teaching business ethics, enhance learning based on students' own experiences, and promote ethical values in schools, universities, and organizations.

Originality/value

This research shows the importance of incorporating propensity to engage in unethical behavior (PUB), the love of money, machiavellianism, and risk tolerance in identifying bad apples vs good apples across majors.

Keywords

Citation

Li‐Ping Tang, T., Chen, Y. and Sutarso, T. (2008), "Bad apples in bad (business) barrels: The love of money, machiavellianism, risk tolerance, and unethical behavior", Management Decision, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 243-263. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740810854140

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited