Ethical Reasoning, Machiavellian Behavior, and Gender: The Impact on Accounting Students' Ethical Decision Making

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Virginia Tech

This research is designed to gain an understanding of how accounting students respond to realistic, business ethical dilemmas. Prior research suggests that accounting students exhibit lower levels of ethical reasoning compared to other business and non-business majors. This study uses the Defining Issues Test, Version 2 (Rest, et al., 1999) to measure accounting students' ethical reasoning processes. The Mach IV scale (Christie and Geis, 1970) is used to measure moral behavior. Eight ethical vignettes adapted from prior ethics studies represent realistic, business ethical scenarios.

A total of sixty-eight undergraduate accounting students are used to examine three hypotheses. Literature suggests that individuals with lower ethical reasoning levels are more likely to agree with unethical behavior. Therefore, hypothesis one investigates the relationship between ethical reasoning and ethical decision making. Literature also suggests that individuals agreeing with Machiavellian statements are more likely to agree with questionable activities. Hypothesis two investigates the relationship between Machiavellian behavior and ethical decision making. Prior gender literature suggests that gender influences ethical decision making, with females being more ethical than males. Therefore, hypothesis three examines whether female accounting students agree less with questionable activities compared to males.

Results indicate that ethical reasoning is significantly correlated with students' ethical ratings on the business vignettes. Similarly, Machiavellian behavior is significantly correlated with students' ethical ratings. Consistent with prior gender literature, females agree less with questionable activities compared to male accounting students.

Ethical Reasoning, Ethics, Machiavellian