Survey Experiment and its relationship with ethics

This article is a continuation of the publication entitled: “Survey Experiment: a promising methodological approach”. The initial idea of ​​the first article was to provide an overview so that we could understand what this approach is about, and then, in this article, present the use of methodology and its relationship with ethics.

To stipulate a pattern of understanding here, I reproduce below part of the cited article that initially explains this methodological approach.

“The research experiment incorporates basic aspects of a “common research” with experimental interventions. The general idea is to assign respondents to a control group and a treatment group at random, manipulating some aspects of the research protocol., what is sought is to determine if there was any variation in the stimulus proposed in the treatment group.”

Next, I will not stick to the types of ethics analyzed, but simply the methodological approach used, Survey Experiment. To this end, I will present four research in ethics that used this approach.

1 – In a study conducted at a university in Germany, researchers (STÖBER et al., 2018) sought to understand through a survey experiment whether manipulations in the code of ethics can facilitate learning by contributing to familiarity. They also sought to verify the expectations that the code can convey regarding “the commitment of top management and the behavior of colleagues, who are part of the ethical culture”.

With that, they conducted the experiment with 143 participants, divided between university students and technicians (staff). With a code of ethics from a fictitious company, the researchers manipulated two elements of the code due to the objectives proposed in the research and conducted the research with the participants at random.

The results showed “that the formal design elements of a code of ethics (that is, their tone and signatures by top management) shape highly informal elements of an organization’s ethical culture. In addition to the fact that the way a code is developed in fact it influences elements of the ethical culture and does so in a way that guides companies on how to improve their code.

2 – To analyze the impacts of the tax system on fiscal non-compliance, Górecki and Letki (2020) applied a survey experiment from the theoretical perspective of the social norm published in the Journal of Business Ethics. The survey was conducted in fourteen countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Using vignettes and factor analysis, “respondents are faced with scenarios that offer a discrete number of attributes (factors) and are asked to indicate their opinion in the context of a given configuration […] the opinion obtained is treated as a dependent variable, while the factors are treated as independent variables”. The researchers found results that the social norm conditions two types of effects. Firstly, it was understood that there is moderation in the perceived social norms regarding the taxpayers’ propensity to tax evasion, that is, “an increase in the tax rate reduces the likelihood of evasion, as long as “most others” are seen. as honest taxpayers, which highlights the importance of fairness (justice) concerns for tax compliance decisions”. On the other hand, the results showed that “strong subjective compliance standards tend to effectively replace penalties as a mechanism that discourages tax evasion, suggesting that the deterrent effect of a penalty can be completely suppressed when the subjective standards are strong”.

3 – Also in an article for the Journal of Business Ethics, Hassan, Pandey and Pandey (2020) sought to understand “how the communication of ethical guidelines by managers can reduce the probability of unethical employee behavior”. For this, they applied two experiments of vignettes to know the impact of the communication that the specific and general guidelines exercise. In the vignette experiment, scenarios are set up and respondents give their answers based on specific scenarios. Variable manipulations are done at random. In this specific article, the authors manipulated “treatment conditions (specific guideline, general guideline and control / no guideline) by changing the information in the hypothetical work scenario. The results found were” that the communication of ethical guidelines by managers reduces the likelihood of unethical behavior […] with specific guidelines, it was observed that participants use specific details to deny or rationalize ethical concerns, and with general guidelines, participants recognize ethical concerns and are less likely to minimize them “.

4 – Meyer-Sahling, Mikkelsen and Schuster (2019), sought to understand through the approach of the survey experiment and by the behavioral ethics, as the activation of the PMS that is known as the motivation of public service, that is, the “orientation for the providing services to people for the purpose of doing good for others and society “can make” respondents more willing to report ethical problems to management. “In addition to seeking to understand also how “activation of PSM will have a greater effect on the ethical report for respondents with higher levels of PSM”. In a sample of 5,000 respondents, the authors were able to confirm the first hypothesis that suggested “that the activation of PSM would make respondents more willing to report ethical problems to management”. They partially confirmed the second hypothesis that “activation of PSM would have a greater effect on ethical reporting for respondents with higher levels of PSM”. They found that “treatment only has a significant positive effect at high levels of PSM – but not a significant effect at low levels of PSM”.

The survey experiment is a promising approach that is already carried out in numerous areas of knowledge. In marketing it is not new and has been consolidated as an approach that can combine experiments with general research, bringing an even greater degree of depth. Research in ethics using this approach has great possibilities, without a doubt. In the field of ethics, even though it is not in its most mature stage, this approach demonstrates extremely wide possibilities to be explored. Undoubtedly, a systematic or bibliographic review of the various research in ethics through the survey experiment would be an immeasurable aid to researchers in the field of ethics.


GÓRECKI, Maciej A.; LETKI, Natalia. Social norms moderate the effect of tax system on tax evasion: Evidence from a large-scale survey experiment. Journal of Business Ethics, p. 1-20, 2020.

HASSAN, Shahidul; PANDEY, Sheela; PANDEY, Sanjay K. Should Managers Provide General or Specific Ethical Guidelines to Employees: Insights from a Mixed Methods Study. Journal of Business Ethics, p. 1-18, 2020.

KRUPNIKOV, Y.; FINDLEY, B. Survey Experiments: Managing the Methodological Costs and Benefits. Rae Atkeson, L. and Alvarez, RM (edt.): The Oxford Handbook of Polling and Survey Methods. Oxford University Press, 2016.

MEYER-SAHLING, Jan-Hinrik; MIKKELSEN, Kim Sass; SCHUSTER, Christian. The causal effect of public service motivation on ethical behavior in the public sector: Evidence from a large-scale survey experiment. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, v. 29, n. 3, p. 445-459, 2019.

NOCK, S. L.; GUTERBOCK, T. M.. “Survey experiments.” In Handbook of Survey Research, eds. Marsden, P. V., and Wright, J. D.. Emerald, UK, 837–64, 2010.78

STÖBER, Thomas; KOTZIAN, Peter; WEIßENBERGER, Barbara E. Culture follows design: Code design as an antecedent of the ethical culture. Business Ethics: A European Review, v. 28, n. 1, p. 112-128, 2019.

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