Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

The Universal Relevance of Locus of Control in Ethical Decision Making: A Multi-Country Examination

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

The Universal Relevance of Locus of Control in Ethical Decision Making: A Multi-Country Examination

Article excerpt


Research has shown that Locus of Control (LOC) is a personality variable possessing potential explanatory power in the study of ethical decision making. Diverse results have been reported in the literature. Whenever differences on the LOC variable are indicated by the research, individuals with an Internal LOC report the more ethical responses. This study extends the examination of the universal relevance of the LOC variable to ethical decision making of university students.

Using an instrument designed to elicit responses to questionable academic behaviors, this research analyzes ethical responses of university students (n=1,657) from seven countries to examine the universal nature of LOC differences. The behaviors examined are of an individualist nature. The students were asked to indicate their beliefs about ethicality concerning the academic behaviors. Results indicate considerable support for the universal nature of LOC differences in the ethical responses of the students.


Increasing attention is being focused on understanding differences in decision making associated with questionable behaviors. With the recent scandals in the corporate arena, there is a renewed focus on including ethics courses in the curriculum. Lacking hard evidence of a clear link between ethics classes and ethical behavior, researchers must consider other relationships. Since ethical decisions involve a "cost/benefit analysis," one must ask whether effective decisions are being made, as they relate to the costs of questionable decisions? In addition, are those decisions believed to affect the outcome? Are similar decisions being made on ethical dilemmas that are faced by our future business leaders--both in the US and other countries? In light of the increasing global nature of the business environment, it becomes even more important to understand whether systematic differences are present across global geographical areas and cultures. In order to further examine the ethical decision processes of our future business leaders, this study examines links between responses to ethical dilemmas and the LOC orientation of university student respondents.


Research examining the ethical orientation of university students in the US has been reported in the literature for several decades. During the last few years, additional studies have examined ethical decision making of students in the international academic domain. Using a country variable in the analysis, research comparing North American students to those from Western European countries or Australia generally has not indicated significant differences in the ethical beliefs and perceptions of students among these countries (Eynon et al., 1996; Stevenson and Bodkin, 1998; Whipple and Swords, 1992; Lysonski and Gaidis, 1991). Given the predominance of the common Anglo-Saxon heritage, these results are not unexpected. An increasing number of cross-national studies have compared Anglo-heritage countries with various Asian subgroups. In general, the differences in ethical orientations of these geographically and culturally diverse groups are significantly different (Armstrong, 1996; Brody et al., 1998; Goodwin and Goodwin, 1999; Nyaw and Ng, 1994; White and Rhodeback, 1992). However, some research examining cultural differences of Anglo and Asian university students indicates considerable correspondence associated with the responses between the diverse geographical regions. The differences appear to be in the use of the survey responses provided by the Likert scale (Hume et al., 2003; Yamamura et al., 1996; Ueno and Wu, 1993). Asian students tend to prefer the more collectivistic mid-points of the scale and ignore the more individualistic end-points of scales provided with surveys.

A number of studies have addressed the potential link between the personality variable Locus of Control (LOC) and ethical responses. …

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