Additional intervention evidence on the relationship between public service motivation and ethical behavior

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Bradley E. Wright
Robert K. Christensen


Public service motivation, Ethics, Ethical behavior, Intervention


The nascent scholarship on public service motivation (PSM) and ethics exhibits mixed findings. This research article aims to describe and relate the current landscape of findings in this arena and to conduct an experiment that addresses design weaknesses that may explain some past null findings. Using a national sample of college-age respondents, we found that although self-reported PSM was positively correlated with ethical intentions, prosocial priming did not increase ethical intentions or behavior. We contextualize these findings in terms of previous studies, to inform our understanding of the efficacy of prosocial interventions. While our research suggests that self-reported PSM can predict, if not influence, ethical intention, we are unable to make conclusions about PSM’s effects on ethical behavior. Second, similar to past studies, we are not able to confirm specific mechanisms or interventions that might be used to increase ethical behavior or intentions.

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