Hormones and ethics: Understanding the biological basis of unethical conduct

Jooa Julia Lee, Francesca Gino, Ellie Shuo Jin, Leslie K Rice, Robert A Josephs
Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 2015, 144 (5): 891-7
Globally, fraud has been rising sharply over the last decade, with current estimates placing financial losses at greater than $3.7 trillion annually. Unfortunately, fraud prevention has been stymied by lack of a clear and comprehensive understanding of its underlying causes and mechanisms. In this paper, we focus on an important but neglected topic--the biological antecedents and consequences of unethical conduct--using salivary collection of hormones (testosterone and cortisol). We hypothesized that preperformance cortisol levels would interact with preperformance levels of testosterone to regulate cheating behavior in 2 studies. Further, based on the previously untested cheating-as-stress-reduction hypothesis, we predicted a dose-response relationship between cheating and reductions in cortisol and negative affect. Taken together, this research marks the first foray into the possibility that endocrine-system activity plays an important role in the regulation of unethical behavior.

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