How Perpetrator Gender Influences Reactions to Premeditated Versus Impulsive Unethical Behavior: A Role Congruity Approach

Ke Michael Mai, Aleksander P.J. Ellis, David Welsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


A significant body of research has emerged in order to better understand unethical behavior at work and how gender plays a role in the process. In this study, we look to add to this literature by exploring how perpetrator gender influences reactions to distinct types of unethicality. Rather than viewing unethical behavior as a unitary construct, where all forms of lying, cheating, and stealing are the same, we integrate theories and concepts from the criminal justice and moral psychology literatures to categorize certain unethical behaviors as either impulsive or premeditated. Given the agentic nature of premeditated unethical behavior, we draw from role congruity theory to predict that women will be punished more severely than men for their role incongruous actions. Impulsive unethical behavior, on the other hand, will be less likely to elicit perceptions of congruity or incongruity, leading to less of a gender effect. Results from three studies sampling both undergraduates and working adults in the United States, Singapore, and South Korea showed that participants were more likely to associate premeditated unethical behavior with a male perpetrator because it was seen as less feminine (Study 1), and female perpetrators who engaged in premeditated unethical behavior received more severe punishment than male perpetrators due to the perceived role incongruity of their actions (Study 2 and Study 3). Implications are discussed as well as possible limitations and directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-503
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Gender
  • Premeditation
  • Role congruence
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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