Immoral goals: How goal setting may lead to unethical behavior

Lisa D. Ordóñez, David T. Welsh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This review summarizes the relatively recent findings and discussion of the immoral impact of goal setting systems. While hundreds of studies show the positive impact of goals leading to increased performance, we focus on the studies showing that goals have a powerful negative impact on increasing unethical behavior. First, we discuss the theoretical reasons why goals lead to unethical behavior in terms of decreased moral awareness, increased moral disengagement, decreased self-regulatory resources, and increase risk taking. Second, we summarize the impact of goal structures and reward systems and discuss the particularly negative impact we when pay for goal performance. Finally, we point out the negative impacts on organizations in terms of managed earnings, meeting analyst expectations, and employing stretch goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-96
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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