Business Ethics & Moral Intelligence

a) Honesty in economic decision-making

In an interdisciplinary collaboration (Psychology and Finance), we explore the role of (dis)honesty in economic decision making (the focus being on decisions of managers and investors). In experimental studies we testing the hypothesis that at least some individuals may be committed to honesty and therefore more willing to sacrifice monetary benefits. In general, we observe that this latter group of individuals is more resistent to the influence of monetary incentives and social norms. We also study the role of further situational influences on truthtelling, such as depletion or time pressure.

Publication: Gibson, Tanner, & Wagner (2013). In: American Economic Review.

b) Ethical competences (“Moral intelligence”)

Corporate ethical scandals and the financial crisis has given rise to the view that individual or organizational agents need, beyond professional skills, emotional and social intelligence, also moral/ethical competences (“moral intelligence”). We have recently developed a theoretical framework specifying the abilities that facilitate moral functioning. Based on interdisciplinary collaborations, we are currently working at new ideas and projects aimed at developing and establishing instruments to measure essential dimensions of moral intelligence. Such tools are planed to serve as diagnostic and educational tools. One current project is designed to develop an instrument and tool to assess moral sensibility/awareness.

c) Ethical leadership

Still little is known about what characterizes ethical leadership and whether ethical behavior pays off. We argue that leaders’ values only matter to organizations and followers if they convey those beliefs and values through their actions on a regular basis. To address this, we have begun to build the Ethical Leadership Behavior Scale (ELBS), which is based on concrete manifestations of ethical values (e.g., fairness, respect, caring) across occasions and situational challenges. First findings also support the view that ethical behaviors of leaders contribute positively to employee work attitudes and working outcomes.

Publication: Tanner, Brügger, Van Schie & Lebherz (2010).

d) How valuable is the “Swiss Bank Secret” for Swiss?

In the last years, the international pressure on the “Swiss bank secret” has tremendously increased. In 2009, we conducted a representative survey for the German-speaking Swiss population to examine how Swiss Germans think about the bank secret and how they respond to international pressure.

Publication: Tanner & Hausmann (2009)

Values and Decision-Making

Another major research line concerns how values and moral beliefs affect decision-making and behavior. Converging empirical evidence suggests that individuals may endorse protected values (sometimes also called sacred values, moral mandates). Such values are not simply important values or attitudes: They refer to values and entities (e.g., human lives, nature, freedom, honesty, human rights) individuals believe that they “ought” to be absolute, not negotiable and protected from trade-offs with other values, in particular monetary benefits. Protected values pose a problem for rational choice models, which claim that any values can be traded off. In applied domains, protected values may represent an important source of conflicts, which require other problem solving strategies. We explore key questions in various areas (e.g., environmental issues, business ethics, human rights).

a) Protected values in intrapersonal decision-making

This research was mainly aimed at exploring three questions: (1) How do people respond to and cope with decision tasks that tap into protected values. One robust finding is that protected values serve as (moral) heuristics, which help to facilitate decisions, despite the fact that decisions tapping into such values trigger negative emotion. - (2) Which kind of moral reasoning does underlie protected values? The results suggest that people endorsing protected values are prone to nonconsequentialist (or deontological) rather than consequentialist reasoning. - (3) Are individuals endorsing protected values—due to their moral commitment to such values—also more resistent to contextual influences? Our studies suggest that people endorsing protected values and deontological orientations are less sensitive to framing effects, monetary incentives, social norms (see also topics within business ethics & moral intelligence,).

Publications: Hanselmann & Tanner (2008), Tanner, Medin, & Iliev (2008) , Tanner & Medin (2004)

b) Negotiations

Other projects were aimed at exploring the role of protected or sacred values in interpersonal decision making (negotiation research mainly uses the term sacred values). We examine how individuals endorsing sacred values differ from parties not endorsing sacred values a) in their concession-making and problem-solving behavior, b) in their extent of exhibiting fixed-pie perception (a well-known factor in research that hinders favorable negotiations), and c) in their capability to contribute to better negotiation outcomes. Consistent with this, our studies confirm that people with sacred values are hard bargainers, unwilling to make concessions on the sacred issue. However, beyond that, we find (counterintuitively) that people endorsing sacred values are more likely to contribute to favorable negotiations.

c) Development of an instrument to measure protected values

Steps were done in developing an (German) instrument to measure protected values. In several studies, we have tested the instrument’s reliability and validity.

Publications: Tanner, Ryf, & Hanselmann (2009), Merz & Tanner (2009)

Sustainability and Consumer Decision Making

a) Constraints on Sustainable Behaviors

This research direction has explored personal and contextual factors that inhibit or facilitate environmental sustainable behaviors.

Publications: Tanner, Kaiser & Wölfing Kast (2004), Tanner & Wölfing Kast (2003)

b) Consumers judging the environmental significance of products

In an interdisciplinary collaboration (with life cycle assessment experts), we explored psychological biases when consumers are faced with the task to judge the environmentally friendliness of consumer products (food products).

Publications: Tanner (2008), Tanner & Jungbluth (2003)