The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation, Caffeine and Self-Control

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Building a self-regulatory model of sleep deprivation and deception: The role of caffeine and social influence
Reviewed by: Mary Selden

Many of us can’t imagine going a day without our caffeine of choice—coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, or any number of others. A recent study cited in this article claims that 90% of Americans ingest some form of caffeine daily in order to overcome the effects of sleep loss. But did you know that caffeine could also help you maintain better self-control?



When our mental resources are depleted, we have a harder time regulating our behavior. This is often what happens with sleep deprivation, which can decrease our ability to control impulses and overcome temptation.

As our resources for self-control are depleted from lack of sleep, we become more susceptible to negative social influence— such as being less able to resist someone who tries to persuade us to do unethical things, such as deceiving others.



The authors claim that caffeine can actually boost our natural resources in these situations, helping us to better control our actions and refrain from unethical behavior, even when someone is attempting to influence us.

The study found that, when participants were tired, they were more likely to succumb to unethical suggestions from others. But, after consuming caffeine, the participants had more resources to resist social influence (that is, the researcher telling them to deceive the other participants) because the caffeine alleviated some of the effects of sleep deprivation.



These findings are particularly applicable in work settings, where sleep deprivation in employees could make them less able to resist unethical temptations from others at work.

But, while helpful in some regards, caffeinated beverages also have some disadvantages. Caffeine is a diuretic, can increase anxiety and heart rate, and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when you stop consuming it.

It’s not a cure-all solution for resisting unethical suggestions, either: The study found that well-rested individuals had much greater self-control than those who were tired, even when the sleep-deprived individuals ingested caffeine. Well-rested individuals didn’t experience the same benefits as sleep-deprived individuals who ingested caffeine, because it affected them less. So they were ultimately able to resist unethical behavior equally well, whether there was social pressure or not.

But if rest is lacking, caffeine may give people the extra boost they need in order to get back some of the self-control they’ve lost from being exhausted.

Leave a Penny, Take a Penny: Effective Giving

Publication: Harvard Business Review (April 2013)
Article: In the Company of Givers and Takers
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

You don’t have to be an I/O psychologist or HR professional to have observed that there are people in the world who are “givers” and others who are “takers.” Givers provide support and assistance to their colleagues, friends, and family expecting nothing in return. They’re classic ‘do-gooders.’ Then you’ve got the takers; the people who take what they can and rarely reciprocate.

Organizations increasingly value a ‘culture of giving.’ Research shows a strong relationship between employee giving behaviors and important business outcomes such as profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. However, excessive generosity can threaten these very same outcomes, if employees are so distracted by helping others that they neglect their responsibilities.

According to the researcher, Adam Grant, effective givers know that the secret to giving is not to give unconditionally, but to give wisely. Truly effective givers are able to differentiate generosity from being taken advantage of or being ‘used and abused.’

How does one learn to distinguish the two? As a starting point, it’s important to understand that giving is not synonymous with weakness or timidity. Unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult for givers to stick up for themselves and what they want, Grant offers practical advice. First, shift your frame of reference and consider how your actions or negotiations will affect those around you. Advocating for someone else is often substantially easier than advocating on your own behalf. Next, set limits on your availability. You can’t possibly do everything; seek support and delegate tasks to competent others when possible. Set aside time for yourself, and know that it’s okay to say no from time to time. Finally, when making decisions consider others’ perspectives in addition to their feelings so that you don’t let your emotions hold you back from making smart choices.

Can you think of any other effective giving strategies?

Everyone On Board: Encouraging Employee Whistle-Blowing (IO Psychology)

Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (May 2013)
Article: Encouraging Employees to Report Unethical Conduct Internally: It Takes a Village
Reviewed by: Thaddeus Rada

With the prevalence of corporate scandals seemingly increasing in recent years, organizations are concerned with preventing unethical behavior like never before. One way some organizations may combat unethical behavior is through employee whistle-blowing programs, in which they encourage employees who witness unethical behavior to report it internally. In this way, organizations hope to find out about problematic behavior quickly, before the issue grows and becomes more damaging and difficult to deal with. However, whistle-blowing programs have an inherent drawback: they rely on employees to take the initiative to report unethical behavior, which many employees may be reluctant to do, especially if the unethical behavior involves their manager or another powerful figure.

A recent study by David Mayer and his colleagues investigated some of the conditions that might facilitate (or suppress) employee whistle-blowing behavior. Across two field studies and a lab experiment, the authors found that both supervisors and coworkers played key roles in determining if an employee would report unethical behavior. Specifically, ethical leadership on the part of an employee’s supervisor seemed to make it more likely that the employee would engage in whistle-blowing when necessary; however, supervisors’ ethical leadership had a much smaller impact on employee whistle-blowing when an employee’s coworkers behaved unethically. Put another way, it appears that simply having an ethical boss isn’t enough to ensure whistle-blowing; the behavior of an employee’s coworkers also seems to play an important role in this process.

While research will undoubtedly continue to uncover new insights on whistle-blowing behavior, this study has important implications for practice. Specifically, consultants might advise organizations that it is important to encourage ethical behavior at all levels of the organization. If an employee’s supervisor, or coworkers, behave unethically, it reduces the likelihood that an employee will engage in whistle-blowing. Employees need to feel that unethical behavior is discouraged at all levels of the organization, thus minimizing the risk that they take by reporting such behavior.

Explaining Unethical Decision Making: The Problem with Tunnel-Vision

Topic: Ethics, Judgment
Publication: Judgment and Decision Making
Article: Is that the answer you had in mind? The effect of perspective on unethical
Authors: Schurr, A., Ritov, I., Kareev, Y., and Avrahami, J.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

When someone makes a “bad” or unethical decision inside or outside the workplace, we oftentimes ask the question: why? Perhaps answering this question is important because it helps us make sense of the behavior, as well as helping us prevent it from happening again in the future.

Schurr and colleagues recently sought an answer to the question, “Why?”, when explaining unethical behavior. They proposed that people make unethical decisions because of how those decisions are framed. In other words, an individual’s perspective of a decision can be either narrow or broad; narrow being that a decision or sequence of decisions are considered in isolation, broad being that a decision or set of decisions is framed in a broader context in that the aggregate consequences of the decision(s) are considered.

To test this idea, the authors had students face an ethical dilemma by giving them an
opportunity to be rewarded for cheating at a trivia game. This was measured by asking the students to participate in a practice round, then allowing them to self-score their answers in a monetarily incentivized “real” round. The researchers found that those in the “narrow” condition (students asked to move straight from the practice round to real round) were more likely to cheat than those in the broad condition (students asked to plan which questions they would see
in advance). In a follow-up experiment where no monetary incentive was involved, the level of cheating dropped off significantly.

These results demonstrate that when there is incentive to do so, and a person is applying tunnel-vision to their decision making, the chances for unethical decisions increase. Said a different way, when choices are made sequentially, in isolation, versus when they are planned ahead and considered to be an aggregate choice, the chances for unethical behavior increases.

The authors warn that this study shows that the guardrails for “acceptable” behavior can move depending on a person’s perspective. But, when a person considers his/her decision or set of decisions more broadly (i.e., the greater consequences of the decision and how it affects a larger context), those guardrails stand out more saliently and are harder to “reset”. Thus, by helping people think more broadly about how their decisions connect to the larger world, organizations, leaders, and trainers can feel better that the decisions being made are more ethical.

Schurr, A., Ritov, I., Kareev, Y., & Avrahami, J. (2012). Is that the answer you had in mind? The effect of perspective on unethical behavior. Judgment and Decision Making, 7(6), 679-688.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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Need Ethics? Here, Take Mine (IO Psychology)

Topic: Ethics
Publication: Journal of Management (2012)
Article: The psychic cost of doing wrong: Ethical conflict, divestiture socialization, and emotional exhaustion
Authors: Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., Simon, L. S., & Rich, B. L.
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

It’s sweet, albeit naïve, to think that the ethical training we learned in pursuit of a degree or on the job during seemingly endless training sessions will do the trick. We will always be upstanding corporate citizens, ready to fight evil. But that’s not really what happens. It’s all well and good to make your employees take ethics training, but what about when their supervisor or even the organizational culture pushes them to break their ethical rules? Sure, we have a moral dilemma, but it goes deeper than that. Ethical lapses have an effect on the employees who make or see them.

In a study of new lawyers (you can insert your own lawyer joke here), researchers examined the impact of ethical conflict on emotional exhaustion and feelings of fulfillment. In terms of establishing ethical conflict, they looked at a particular kind of organizational socialization—divestment. This is the type of socialization that encourages new employees to drop their own ideals and intuitions and adapt to what the organization believes. It’s the drop-that-hold-this approach to socializing. So, employees who come into an organization with wide eyes and high standards of ethics are now bombarded with the real world, or at least the real world as the organization sees it. If the employee’s belief system doesn’t jive with the organization’s, the new employee has to change to fit. If the change in beliefs has to do with professional ethics, that’s were we see this ethical conflict. Take it another step further and we find that the ethical conflict can be particularly draining for new employees. They have to deal with situations that they know are unethical and that takes a toll. They’re also less fulfilled as employees, because, hey, they’re in the business of doing wrong. Would you be happy about that?

Unless your organization is on a quest to bring down James Bond or uses words like “nefarious” in its mission statement, you’re probably interested in decreasing instances of unethical behavior. After all, ethical lapses on the part of organization lead to less fulfilled, more exhausted employees. The key here is to change the culture before it changes the people. Those individuals suffering that ethical conflict—those are the good ones. Keep them in their angelic condition by instituting policies that encourage ethics (training, whistle-blower protection, etc.). Ethical lapses happen, but not in your company.


Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., Simon, L. S., & Rich, B. L. (2012). The Psychic cost of doing wrong: Ethical conflict, divestiture socialization, and emotional exhaustion. Journal of Management, 38, 784-808.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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Predicting someone’s propensity to morally disengage (IO Psychology)

Topic: Assessment, Personality, Ethics, Counter-Productive Work Behavior, Workplace Deviance
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SPRING 2012)
Article: Why employees do bad things: Moral disengagement and unethical organizational behavior
Authors: Celia Moore, James R. Detert, Linda Klebe Treviño, Vicki L. Baker, & David M. Mayer
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Organizations obviously want their employees to be ethical. While there are existing measures that are used to predict who will act immorally, the authors of this paper proposed a new construct that they called an individual’s propensity to morally disengage – an individual difference in how people think about ethical decisions and behavior that allows them to act unethically without feeling bad about it.

Celia Moore and her colleagues developed a measure of an individual’s propensity to morally disengage. In a series of studies, they then validated the measure for working adults by showing that the propensity to morally disengage was positively related to unethical behavior after accounting for a number of other related traits, orientations, and emotions. Predicted outcomes included self-, supervisor-, and coworker-reported unethical behavior, decisions to commit fraud, and self-serving decisions in the workplace.

You may be wondering how this paper is relevant to practitioners. This new measure of the propensity to morally disengage predicts unethical behavior, and it is short – it only includes eight items. While it has yet to be validated for employee selection, this measure certainly shows promise for its ability to predict unethical behavior. The authors also found that this measure had a low correlation with social desirability, so it seems to be fairly resistant to test-takers faking their responses to receive a good score. If your organization is using a lengthy integrity test in the selection process for the sole purpose of predicting those who would conduct unethical behavior, then this new measure may be something your organization might want to consider using instead.

Moore, C., Detert, J. R., Treviño, L. K., Baker, V. L., & Mayer, D. M. (2012). Why employees do bad things: Moral disengagement and unethical organizational behavior. Personnel Psychology, 65, 1-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01237.x

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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Big Decision? Take some time to think about it (IO Psychology)

Topic: Decision Making, Ethics
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (FEB 2012)
Article: Contemplation and conversation: Subtle influences on moral decision making
Authors: Gunia, B. C., Wang, L., Huang, L., Wang, J., & Murninghan, J. K.
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

In the workplace, important decisions can hinge on the ethical strength of your decision makers. It may be more profitable to make an unethical or self-interested choice, but long term consequences can be dire (I’m lookin’ at you, Wall Street). When it comes to choosing between right and wrong, it is sad to think how easily employees can be swayed. Good news! It works the other way too! You can encourage your employees to make more ethical decisions with just a couple of simple actions. How? Oh, let me tell you!

In an experiment measuring how often individuals would be tell the truth about money (a jackpot to be split between the two of them), participants were more likely to tell the truth about the amount of money to be split if they had some extra time to think about it (contemplation) or if they talked to someone who suggested they make the moral choice (conversation). Take note—they could be swayed to lie if they were encouraged to do so as well, but the relationship was stronger for the positive. Now, isn’t that nice?

So, in this experiment, the choices were pretty clear–tell the truth or tell a lie. If only everything were that easy! For us folks living in the real world, lines tend to be fuzzier, but the bottom line still holds. When faced with a decision, time to think and talking to someone on the high road can help us make more ethically sound decisions.

Gunia, B. C., Wang, L., Huang, L., Wang, J., Murnighan, J. K. (2012). Contemplation and conversation: Subtle influences on moral decision making. Academy of Management Journal, 55, 13-33.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

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The Makings of Morality: The Factors Behind Ethical Behavior (IO Psychology)

Topic: Ethics
Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: Moral maturation and moral conation: A capacity approach to explaining moral thought and action
Authors: Hannah, S. T., Avolio, B. J., & May, D. R.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

When it comes to identifying unethical behavior in politics, business, and sport, all it takes is a casual flip through your Sunday paper. With a greater spotlight being placed on understanding and promoting ethical practices in the workplace, Hannah, Avolio, and May’s goal was to help determine what it means to have “moral capacity” in the workplace and how that capacity affects ethical behavior.

Hannah et al. specifically focused on moral challenges, or knowing the correct thing to do but having conflicting values. The reaction to a moral dilemma is usually made of two parts a cognition process and a conation process. In other words, how you think about the dilemma and what you do about the dilemma. The authors’ offered a theoretical model that describes the factors underlying the moral cognition and conation (action) processes.

To summarize the model, the moral cognition process includes having the moral sensitivity to identify the dilemma and the judgment to choose the best option for handling it. The conation, or action, process includes having the motivation to commit to a particular course of action and the persistence to overcome fatigue or obstacles that get in the way. The factors underlying the moral cognition process are grouped into a category called moral maturation capacities, or the ability to attend to and retain morally relevant information. The factors underlying the moral conation process are similarly named moral conation capacities, or the ability to take responsibility for a moral dilemma and take action in the face of adversity.

A closer inspection of the individual components of both moral maturation and moral conation is highly recommended for both researchers and practitioners who are interested in the psychological processes of ethical behavior in the workplace, but what immediate impact can this model have for practice? The authors note that these capacities are both malleable and measureable, meaning that these capacities could be targeted in selection processes and training and development initiatives. The ultimate goal is to decrease the amount of unethical behavior by increasing moral capacity.

Hannah, S. T., Avolio, B. J., & May, D. R. (2011). Moral maturation and moral conation: A capacity approach to explaining moral thought and action. Academy of Management Review, 36(4), 663-685.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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Responding to Mistreatment of Others

Topic: Motivation, Human Resource Management, Ethics
Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: A Model of Third Parties’ Morally Motivated Responses to Mistreatment in Organizations
Authors: O’Reilly, J. & Aquino, K.
Reviewer: Rachel Marsh

Have you ever noticed a college student being mistreated by someone else in the organization, be it peer, subordinate or superior? What actions did you take because of what you witnessed? According to O’Reilly and Aquino you have several choices. You could rally against the perpetrator, going to their superior to explain what happened. You also have the option of punishing the offender on your own, vigilante style. There is also the possibility that you could comfort the victim or you could just ignore the situation. The authors propose that your actions are determined by your moral identity, the perception of power, and your belief in your organization’s justice system.

A moral identity is how you view yourself morally. Do you think you are a moral person? If you do think you are a moral person, is that one of your core values, something that you perceive as an important aspect of you. If so, you will be more likely to take action against the perpetrator than if you don’t think of yourself as a moral person. The more important you consider morality as a core aspect of yourself, the more likely you are to take action. Power is also an important aspect in taking action against coworker mistreatment.

Position power and resource power both play a role in your decision. Position power is part of the traditional hierarchy of your organization. Do you have any power over the perpetrator? Resource power is not determined by the hierarchy of the organization but is more defined by your social network, political skill, or even time. If you have neither position nor resource power, you are likely not to take action, but if you have either you likely will take action.

So what part of mistreatment in the workplace and employees’ response can an organization control? Their organizational justice system. If employees perceive the justice system is fair and “punishes” people who have purposefully done wrong things while not punishing employees who report mistreatment, then an employee will report mistreatment. However, if an employee does not believe in the organizational justice system, they will act on their own to address the mistreatment, ignore it, or go outside the organization to alleviate the problem. All three of those scenarios reflect badly on an organization, giving the appearance they cannot handle their own problem, and in today’s business world perception is important.

O’Reilly, J., & Aquino, K. (2011). A model of third parties’ morally motivated responses to mistreatment in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 36(3), 526-543.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

Teams Behaving Badly: A Combination of the People and the Environment

Topic: Ethics, Teams, Decision Making
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2011)
Article: Thick as Thieves: The Effects of Ethical Orientation and Psychological
Safety on Unethical Team Behavior
Authors: M.J. Pearsall & A.P. Ellis
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Individuals faced with ethical dilemmas are always free to choose between their perceptions of right and wrong. But some situations are more complicated than that. What happens when an entire team must collectively decide what to do? What factors might sway the group decision in favor of acting unethically? According to research by Pearsall and Ellis (2011), certain types of groups are more prone to ethical violations than others.

The authors first distinguish between two common attitudes people may have:
utilitarianism and formalism. Utilitarianism is when a person tends to make decisions by only focusing on possible outcomes and striving to maximize benefits. Formalism is when a person makes decisions while trying to stay within the guidelines of specific rules and regulations.

After conducting an experiment in which work groups were presented with an
opportunity to cheat on a self-scored evaluation, the authors found that groups whose members had a high level of utilitarianism were more likely to cheat than groups whose members do not espouse a high level of utilitarianism. Groups whose members espoused formalism cheated less than groups whose members did not espouse formalism, although this effect was not as strong as predicted.

Even among groups whose members had a high level of utilitarianism, some groups were more likely than others to act on it. The determining factor was psychological safety, which is the extent to which group members believe that they will not be punished for making suggestions that seem out of the box or risky. On teams that have a high level of psychological safety, unethical people feel free to suggest solutions that may compromise ethics, without fear that the group will chastise or look down upon them. On these teams, utilitarianism is more likely to lead to actual ethics violations.

So if utilitarian-minded people and psychological safety lead to unethical behavior, does that mean they are bad? Not necessarily. In fact, utilitarian people are known for their innovation and can be quite valuable on teams. Likewise, psychological safety is something that organizations strive to increase in order to foster idea-generation and creativity. So what can organizations do to curb ethics violations? One solution is for managers to practice ethical leadership. The authors explain that this might influence followers to uphold ethics standards, even when utilitarian-minded people exist in a psychologically safe environment. And while it may be impractical to completely avoid situations that encourage ethics violations, identifying when they are most likely to occur is the first step in reducing their frequency.

Pearsall, M.J., & Ellis, A.P. (2011). Thick as Thieves: The Effects of Ethical Orientation
and Psychological Safety on Unethical Team Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology,
96(2), 401-411.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management