The moral milieu of information technology: using domain and affordance theory to explain situational and technological effects on ethical IT decision making

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Richard Arthur Milton Schilhavy (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Lakshmi Iyer

Abstract: Unethical behavior in the use of IT may result in significant negative impacts on the productivity, profitability, and reputation of the organization. IT exacerbates moral problems through its constant evolution, multi-faceted nature and encroachment into our personal and professional lives. People have difficulty recognizing moral characteristics, applying moral decision-making heuristics, and anticipating consequences of ethical problems when IT is present. These qualities highlight the moral milieu of ethical IT problems in organizations. The dissertation investigates this phenomenon through three perspectives. First, while moral development in childhood and adolescence predispose people toward particular moral reasoning, situational and contextual factors of ethical IT dilemmas may unearth other different moral reasoning patterns. The deviation of people's situational moral reasoning from broader moral dispositions is explored. Second, the scenario-specific situational moral reasoning is further framed into patterns of decision-making heuristics using the domain theory of moral development. Third, research in IT ethics has largely ignored the properties and characteristics of IT artifacts in ethical decision-making. Using affordance theory from ecological psychology, the dissertation proposes a framework of moral affordances, including ownership, anonymity, reproducibility, etc. that shapes ethical IT decision-making, intentions and behaviors. The study surveys 321 individuals across three ethical IT dilemmas of varying moral character and technology use. Ethical intentions and decisions deviated significantly from when situational moral judgments were considered, emphasizing utilitarian and relativist judgments. These decision-making models are transformed when ethical IT dilemmas were attributed to different domains of morality, exhibiting not only different patterns of moral reasoning but also an entirely different moral character. Finally, the salience of IT moral affordances varied between ethical dilemmas and demonstrated some influence on ethical IT decisions and intentions; however, these moral affordances lacked predictive efficacy within the broader ethical IT decision-making model.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Affordance theory, Domain theory, Ethics, Information technology, Moral behavior, Moral reasoning
Information technology $x Moral and ethical aspects
Decision making $x Moral and ethical aspects

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