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Revisiting the evaluation of IT ethical scenarios using a multidimensional scale

Julia Graham (College of Business, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, USA)
Kristen Brewer Wilson (College of Business, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, USA)
Shelly Rodrigue (College of Business and Industry, University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA)

American Journal of Business

ISSN: 1935-5181

Article publication date: 12 June 2024

Issue publication date: 5 July 2024




In 2001, Ellis and Griffith used a multidimensional ethics scale including three subdimensions of moral equality, relativism and contractualism to examine the ethicality of IT scenarios. In the 20 plus years to follow, there has been an exponential growth in uses and users of technology. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to ascertain if the multi-item ethics measure remains valid in spite of the technological advances and progression of communication made possible through technology.


The survey consisted of technology-related ethical situations, an ethical judgment scale, an engagement scale and demographical questions. The sample size was 366, consisting of mainly white, upperclassman, American-native males having proficient experience with computers and spending an average of 20 h or less a week on a computer.


The findings reveal that both moral equity and relativism have a positive relationship with engagement across all tested scenarios, while contractualism has a positive relationship in four scenarios. Furthermore, a significant difference between the means of gender exists in four of the six scenarios. These findings indicate that indeed college students can not only recognize, but also make an ethical decision to not engage in unethical behavior and reconfirm that using a multidimensional ethics scale is warranted.

Research limitations/implications

This study is not without limitations. First, the data is cross-sectional and causal inferences are not warranted. Second, the sample consisted of students and may not be generalizable to employees. Therefore, future research may sample employees in a technology organization to provide greater insight into ethical judgment and engagement in such scenarios. Another limitation of this study is that the scenarios were generated from students discussing their concerns regarding various ethical judgment situations they anticipate encountering in the near future with technology. Although this method of developing scenarios addresses current concerns of students, some of the scenarios do not directly apply to the workplace and may appear to be limited in their applicability. Therefore, future studies should consider developing scenarios that reflect more practical situations that occur in the workplace in general and through work-life blending.

Practical implications

One of the implications of these findings is that universities and business schools who embed ethics courses in the curriculum need to incorporate moral reasoning in ethics courses, as moral reasoning is an essential component of ethical decision-making and is shown to have a positive relationship with engagement in this study. By providing students with instruction on moral reasoning, universities can equip them with the skills to make ethical decisions that align with the values of their future employers and ameliorate their engagement levels. Continuing professional education in these ethical issues areas helps bridge college edification with practical career application, and ensures that as technologies and situations change, future business professionals are equipped to navigate changing environments and ethical scenarios.

Social implications

With a brighter spotlight shining on employee ethical behavior both in and out of the workplace (Parker et al., 2019), the ability to make moral choices is vital. This study’s findings indicate that an increased focus on ethics education in universities is effective in helping future business professionals recognize and avoid ethical lapses. Therefore, it may be worthwhile for organizations to invest in ethics training programs to promote ethical decision-making skills among employees. By doing so, organizations may create a culture that values ethical behavior and provides employees with the tools and knowledge necessary to make informed and ethical decisions.


This study highlights the importance of ethics education and training programs and underscores the need for organizations to foster a culture of ethical behavior. Additionally, the study’s findings regarding gender differences call for greater efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, particularly in leadership positions.



Graham, J., Wilson, K.B. and Rodrigue, S. (2024), "Revisiting the evaluation of IT ethical scenarios using a multidimensional scale", American Journal of Business, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 178-192.



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