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BYU study: Does viewing pornography lead to unethical behavior at work?

The study found a positive relationship between unethical behavior and self-reported frequency of viewing porn.
The study found a positive relationship between unethical behavior and self-reported frequency of viewing porn.
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PROVO — A new BYU study suggests that pornography consumption can lead to unethical behavior on the job. The authors of the study propose the results could have widespread implications for "most societal organizations."

"We see it in news all the time — a company just cheated on this, they just stole this, they did this unethically. And how do we combat that problem? Those are the big questions we have to ask as a society," said David Wood, a professor at BYU who co-authored the study.

Wood says the study opened the door to tackling those types of questions, but is not a final answer. "Although we detail some potential implications, I would say, we're not advocating for change yet," he said, noting that the study should open the door to further research.

Published in the Journal of Business ethics, the study used both a survey tool and an experiment.

The survey polled a 1,083-person sample (reflective of U.S population demographics) and prompted respondents to indicate how often they viewed pornography.

The survey then asked participants to respond to hypothetical situations in order to determine the respondent's propensity to dishonesty or abuse of a company's policy for personal benefit.

"You recently purchased an expensive chair at a local store that has a strict return policy," the survey read. It asked participants to assume they had damaged the chair and determine whether or not they would return it and claim the product was defective knowing the store's policy was based solely on honesty.

The study found a positive relationship between willingness to behave unethically and pornography consumption. Respondents who reported viewing pornography more frequently recorded responses to the hypothetical situations that were unethical.

Wood said the survey was a strong tool "in that it looks at a very representative sample of the population." However, he noted that it failed to determine causation.

"It just shows people who view pornography are more likely to make less ethical decisions," he noted. So the study took it one step further with an experiment.

A number of participants were asked to recall the last time they viewed pornography and describe it in detail. Another set of participants were instead asked to recall and write about a time they exercised.

Both groups were tasked with watching a video that was intentionally dull. "We said, we're hiring you to watch this video and comment on the video, tell us how exciting it is how interesting describe it."

Participants, who were told they were being paid to watch the video in its entirety, were asked at the end, to say whether they had viewed the entire video.

According to the study, results of the experiment showed that participants "shirk work (by not watching the video) and lie about work performed 21% of the time when they recalled their last experience with pornography and only 8% of the time when they recalled a non-pornographic situation."

"We don't view this as just strictly a business issue, or a an issue that only applies in one small sense, but rather one that could apply across many situations," Woods said, noting that "we're showing that there is a connection between viewing pornography and lying, that's likely to have many implications."