Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Business Administration



Committee Chair

Charles A Pierce

Committee Member

David G Allen

Committee Member

Ronald S Landis

Committee Member

Brian D Janz


This dissertation describes three studies designed to evaluate the contributions of automatic and controlled cognitive processes on observers' decisions and behaviors related to sexual harassment in organizations. Although management scholars have proposed that decisions about sexual harassment may be guided by automatic cognitive processes, evidence and implications related to this proposition are limited, and only recently have theories capable of explaining such automatic influences emerged. In Study one, 124 undergraduate students processed and made decisions about sexual harassment scenarios while completing a secondary task used to infer cognitive effort expenditure. I manipulated the moral intensity and issue typicality of the scenarios, and assigned half the participants to expect the need to justify their decisions. Results indicate that moral intensity of the sexual harassment scenario positively influenced cognitive effort expenditure, but only for participants who expected to later justify their decisions. In Study two, 140 undergraduate students participated in an experiment designed to assess the extent to which moral intensity and issue typicality affect an unobtrusive measure of ethical issue recognition. Results indicate that scenario typicality, but not moral intensity, influences the extent to which the concept ethics becomes activated when observers process unethical organizational behavior. Finally, in Study three, 142 undergraduate students participated in a correlational study designed to assess the relationships among implicit and explicit attitudes toward sexual harassment, self-reported behavior, and on-line behavior. Results indicate that only implicit attitudes predict actual (on-line) behavior, whereas explicit attitudes predict only self-reported behavior. Results from the three studies are interpreted in the context of managerial ethical decision-making theory and have theoretical and managerial implications. Regarding the former, evidence demonstrating the effects of automatic cognitive processes on ethical decision making outcomes challenges a long-standing rational view of business ethics. Regarding the latter, organizations stand to realize benefit by considering alternative methods of employee ethics training, ethics training evaluation, organizational culture communication, and a greater understanding of sexual harassment phenomena.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.