Disgusted or Happy, It is not so Bad: Emotional Mini-Max in Unethical Judgments

Karen Page Winterich, Andrea C. Morales, Vikas Mittal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Although prior work on ethical decision-making has examined the direct impact of magnitude of consequences as well as the direct impact of emotions on ethical judgments, the current research examines the interaction of these two constructs. Building on previous research finding disgust to have a varying impact on ethical judgments depending on the specific behavior being evaluated, we investigate how disgust, as well as happiness and sadness, moderates the effect of magnitude of consequences on an individual’s judgments of another person’s unethical behavior. Specifically, we propose and find that because disgust and happiness are both associated with more heuristic-based processing, they both lead to a stronger reliance on the magnitude of consequences when forming ethical judgments. In contrast, because sad and neutral emotional states are associated with more systematic processing, they both result in a weaker reliance on the magnitude of consequences. As such, the effect of magnitude of consequences on judgments of unethical behaviors is stronger when individuals making the judgments are experiencing disgust or happiness versus sadness or a neutral state. This research shows that ethical judgment severity is contingent on individual-level factors, particularly the current emotional state being experienced by the individual, interacting with magnitude of consequences to impact the ethical decision-making process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-360
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 6 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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