The Psychology of Unethical Behavior

The Psychology of Unethical Behavior

Anger issues

Suppose for a moment, you went to a gym for your daily workout. A tall and bulky guy walks in the room with some arrogance reflecting in his walk. Another guy, with a comparatively less body mass is doing his work out on the leg pressing machine. The bulky goes to him and orders him to leave the machine for him to workout. The weaker guy politely asks him to wait for 10 minutes so that he can finish his exercise. Getting annoyed by this, the bulky man starts to make fun of the weaker man by calling him fragile and unmanly. Embarrassed by this, when the other man starts walking away, the friends of that bulky man starts laughing which pleases the bulky man and he makes more degrading comments on him. We can call this Unethical Behavior.

Now being present at the scene, would you call out that man for his behavior or just stay silent to stay out of trouble?

What is Unethical Behavior?

Unethical behavior is any act or behavior that goes against the social norms or is not accepted by the society. Something that breaches a person’s security, privacy or any harmful action against them also comes under unethical behavior. Something as big as stealing someone’s property and something as small as intentionally pushing the person who is standing ahead of you in the queue in grocery store can also be called an unethical behavior.

Also Read: Behaviorism: History, Types, and Impact

Psychological Dynamics of Unethical Behavior

In the above scene we can clearly see the breach of ethical lines by the man. Research shows that there are three psychological dynamics that encourage people to act unethically. These dynamics are:

1) Omnipotence

This dynamic explains the state of feeling entitled in a person that the rules around them or in the society don’t apply to them. In other words, they feel a sense of power which makes them feel entitled to cross an ethical line. This type of behavior is only good in case of innovative thinking or brainstorming. However, when the person starts believing that they can violate basic ethics, it becomes harmful.

2) Cultural Numbness

When people start playing along and blindly accept a particular behavior which is deviant without questioning it can be termed as cultural numbness. This cultural numbness encourages a particular behavior, even a bad one so much so that it gets normalized. In such cases, even people with good and decent behavior are left with no choice than accepting the unethical behavior as normal.

Also Read: Why do people change their behavior?

3) Justified Neglect

It means that when people does not speak up to unethical behavior so that they can stay in the good books of others. It is a very common phenomenon to justify something as a very minor issue so that they can receive an immediate gratification or reward from the powerful side.

How to Prevent Unethical Behavior?
1) Self-awareness:

Feeling insecure and self-doubt can be a major cause of behaving unethically. Often people who are not secure in themselves end up projecting their insecurities by such unethical behaviors. It can be bullying, cheating, back biting etc. In such cases it is important to introspect and ask self-reflecting questions that what really leads to such behavior in us.

2) Healthy Relationships:

One of the most common reason people chooses unethical ways of acting is due to their damaged or poor interpersonal relationships. Forming healthier and positive relationships with your colleagues, competitors and relatives can help you gain a fresh perspective of those relationships. It empowers the sense of security and support with your people. Putting down others for your benefit may be temporarily satisfying but appreciating them along your journey will result in long term satisfaction. And after all, we all are social beings who need each other to survive.

3) Professional Help:

Although it is possible to eliminate the tendency to behave unethically with the help of some self-discipline and commitment. But sometimes, the tendency to behave like this gets so severe that it gets very difficult for the person to alter that behavior even if they want to.

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In such cases, it can be a good decision to reach out for psychotherapy. Behavioral modification therapies are very effective to change maladaptive behaviors into adaptive ones and teach us a new perspective of viewing situations.

4) Maintaining a Code of Conduct:

it is very important to maintain a code of conduct for different social and organizational settings so that no ethical lines are breached. The code of conduct should be same for all without any biases so that respect can be maintained among the individuals.

5) Leading by Example:

It especially applies to all the leaders. The actions and behavior of a leader set an example for how the team is going to function. Therefore, it is important for the leaders to be mindful of their behavior and lead on the right path while keeping the ethics in mind.

Also Read: The Impact of Technology on Sexual Behavior

6) Value System:

Having a value system can help us a lot to be respectful to others irrespective of their position and status. People often behave unethically with the weaker sections so that they can easily get away with it. However, having a strong value system helps us to eliminate all the biases and acting ethically.


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