Subjective probability assessments of the incidence of unethical behavior: the importance of scenario–respondent fit

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Abstract

Largely due to the difficulty of observing behavior, empirical business ethics research relies heavily on the scenario methodology. While not disputing the usefulness of the technique, this paper highlights the importance of a careful assessment of the fit between the context of the situation described in the scenario and the knowledge and experience of the respondents. Based on a study of online auctions, we provide evidence that even respondents who have direct knowledge of the situation portrayed in the scenario may develop significantly different assessments of the level of unethical behavior. Further, those assessments may be conditioned in different ways by the same moderating variables. We conclude that care should be exercised when recruiting respondents to choose only those who can be expected to understand the scenario in its true context and that separate analyses should be conducted for groups of respondents who have different perspectives within that context.

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