Something to Rely On: The Influence of Stable and Fleeting Drivers on Moral Behavior Defended on Friday, 9 January 2015

In virtually any situation we are bound to encounter short-lived influences that lure us to act in a certain way. The influence of such ‘fleeting drivers’ may or may not be in line our long-term goals and commitments (‘stable drivers’). Moral behaviour in particular often requires the ability to overcome the influence of fleeting drivers (e.g. self-interest) as well as to act on stable ones (e.g. moral principles). This dissertation is devoted to the question what determines the relative influence of both these types of influence upon our moral behaviours. I give a perhaps somewhat unlikely answer: cognitive abstraction, or ‘construal level’. Abstract cognition (high construal level) allows us to mentally disengage from the ‘here’ and ‘now’ and therefore quells the influence of fleeting drivers. Concrete cognition (low construal level), on the other hand, enhances the influence of fleeting drivers. High construal level is therefore associated with behaviour that is more strongly driver by abstract moral principles, such as moral norms. Low construal level is associated with behaviour that is more strongly driven by situational factors. I show this to be true for several different forms of moral behaviour, including cooperation, punishment and trust restoration.


Behavioral ethics, Moral behaviour, Construal level theory, Being Trusted, Punishment, Trust repair, Ethical leadership, Organizational behaviour, Moral principles, Temptations

Preferred reference

van Houwelingen, G.G. (2015, January 9). Something To Rely On (No. EPS-2014-335-ORG). ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from

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