Relationship between Students' Attitudes toward Hypothetical Marketing Moral Dilemmas and Locus of Control.

Author:Malinowski, Carl


Personality is not something an organization can change. It is, however, worth understanding. Personality traits represent a person's unique combination of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Therefore, they might predict someone's practical and moral contributions to the firm. An employer who knows the personalities of his/her workforce may present the company with a global competitive advantage. The present study sought to determine a possible relationship between the trait known as locus of control and students' attitudes about hypothetical marketing moral dilemmas.


The current investigation looks at possible correlations between the personality trait known as locus of control and attitudinal responses to hypothetical marketing ethical scenarios. The following combination of features distinguishes this study from previous research in the area of locus of control and business ethics: (1) the current investigation emphasizes marketing moral dilemmas, not other management ethical issues; (2) the focus here is on all three components of attitudes, cognition, affect and behavior tendency; (3) locus of control is measured by a ten item scale, each item having an internal and external locus of control option to choose from; (4) students in four business majors are studied: accounting, finance, management and marketing; (5) both graduate and undergraduate students volunteered; (6) undergraduates included freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors and (7) both main campuses of the cooperating university were involved, one urban and the other one suburban.


Ritchie, Anthony and Rubens (2004) define locus of control as peoples' "view of environmental influences on their daily decisions" (p. 270). McCuddy and Peery (1996), in their literature review, say the following: "People who believe they are in control of their own destiny have an internal locus of control. Those who believe that what happens to them is the result of fate or the behavior of other people have an external locus of control" (p. 261). Citing Rotter (1961), Jones and Kavanagh (1996) add that "an individual with an internal locus of control perceives outcomes to be a direct result of his or her efforts whereas an individual with an external locus perceives outcomes from an external force...(thus) less responsible for outcomes than internals" (p. 513). Quoting the social learning theory of Joe (1971), Reiss and Mitra (1998) think internal locus of control individuals "believe that reinforcements are contingent upon their own behavior, capacities or attributes" but externals "believe that reinforcements are not under their personal control" but rather due to "luck, chance or fate" (p. 1582). Ritchie at al. (2004) say internals "believe that achievement, success and personal accomplishments are largely due to their own actions" while externals "believe that forces such as fate or luck largely determine their level of achievement (p. 271).


McCuddy and Peery (1996) believe internals should have higher ethical standards than externals. They add that "people who engage in unethical acts often justify their behavior" (p. 262), that everyone behaves unethically to get ahead, that "the activity is not truly immoral or illegal and is in the best interests of the organization" (p. 262). Externals seek to rationalize unethical behavior by placing responsibility on someone or something external to the individual" (p. 262). McCuddy and Peery (1996) see this as a rationalization of the person with an external locus of control. James and Kavanagh (1996) add that internals are more likely to attribute responsibility for outcomes to themselves and tend to choose to engage in ethical behavior and not engage in unethical behavior. Conversely, "externals are more likely to attribute responsibility ... to others or a situational factor and thus engage in unethical behavior" (p. 513). Rogers and Smith (2001) believe the internal LC person sees a causal link between one's actions and their outcomes, i.e., that the consequences of their lives are directly related to the decisions they make and the actions they take. The external LC believes "expected outcomes are not linked to his/her efforts but to...luck, fate or powerful others "so "does not generally believe in the acceptance of responsibility for what happens" (p. 6). Therefore, he/she is less likely to respond ethically than the internal LC.


McCuddy and Peery (1996) state that the link between ethical/unethical behavior and locus of control has not been studied a great deal. Reiss and Mitra (1998) concur: "only a limited amount of research has examined the relationship between internal-external locus of control and moral behavior " (p.1581). Smith, Coates and Deis (1999) also cite "limited research examining its (LC) potential relationship to ethical beliefs and attitudes" (p. 249). McCuddy and Peery (1996) cite Stead, Worrell, Spalding and Stead (1987) who found that externals were significantly more unethical...

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