Mental Models and Ethical Decision Making: The Mediating Role of Sensemaking

Zhanna Bagdasarov, James F. Johnson, Alexandra E. MacDougall, Logan M. Steele, Shane Connelly, Michael D. Mumford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between mental models and ethical decision making (EDM), along with the mechanisms through which mental models affect EDM, are not well understood. Using the sensemaking approach to EDM, we empirically tested the relationship of mental models (or knowledge representations about an ethical situation) to EDM. Participants were asked to depict their mental models in response to an ethics case to reveal their understanding of the ethical dilemma, and then provide a response, along with a rationale, to a different ethical problem. Findings indicated that complexity of respondents’ mental models was related to EDM, and that this relationship was mediated by sensemaking processes (i.e., cause and constraint criticality, and forecast quality). The implications of these findings for improving integrity training in organizations, as well as ultimately understanding the role of mental models in EDM, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-144
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethical decision making
  • Ethics
  • Knowledge
  • Mental models
  • Sensemaking


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