Narcissism impairs ethical judgment even among the highly religious
though high levels of narcissism can impair ethical judgment regardless of one's religious orientation or orthodox beliefs, narcissism is more harmful in those who might be expected to be more ethical, according to a Baylor University study published online in the Journal of Business Ethics. "Devout people who are narcissistic and exercise poor ethical judgment would be committing acts that are, according to their own internalized value system, blatantly hypocritical," said Marjorie J. Cooper, Ph.D., study author and professor of marketing at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. "Narcissism is sufficiently intrusive and powerful that it entices people into behaving in ways inimical to their most deeply-held beliefs."
The study identified three groups- skeptics, nominal Christians, and devout Christians. Skeptics largely reject foundational Christian teachings. Nominal Christians are moderate in their intrinsic religious orientation as well as in their orthodox beliefs. Devout Christians are high in intrinsic religious orientation and orthodoxy, which indicates that they fully internalize Christian beliefs and values.
"We found that nominal and devout Christians show better ethical judgment than the skeptics overall, but especially those whose narcissistic tendencies are at the low end of the spectrum," said Chris Pullig, Ph.D., chair of the department of marketing and associate professor of marketing at Baylor. "However, that undergoes a notable alteration as levels of narcissism rise for subjects within each cluster."
"Both the nominal and devout groups show degrees of poor ethical judgment equal to that of the skeptics when accompanied by higher degrees of narcissism, a finding that suggests a dramatic transformation for both nominals and the devouts when ethical judgment is clouded by narcissistic tendencies," he said.
For the skeptics, the range of scores for ethical judgment from low to high lacks the range that is found for the nominals and devouts. Increased narcissism among skeptics does not result in significantly worse ethical judgment.
"However, the same cannot be said for the nominals or the devouts," Cooper said. "For both of these groups as narcissism increases so does the tendency to demonstrate worse ethical judgment. Thus, a higher level of narcissism is more likely to be associated with unethical judgment among nominal Christians and devout Christians than skeptics."
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Narcissism impairs ethical judgment even among the highly religious
I’m Number One! Does Narcissism Impair Ethical Judgment
Even for the Highly Religious?
Marjorie J. Cooper • Chris Pullig
Received: 2 December 2011 / Accepted: 31 January 2012
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
Abstract Can an assessment of individuals’ narcissism
help explain the quality of a respondent’s ethical judg-
ment? How is the relationship between religiosity and
ethical judgment moderated by the effects of narcissism?
With a sample of 385 undergraduate business majors, this
study uses a taxonomic approach to examine the effects of
intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity as well as orthodox
Christian beliefs on ethical judgment. Three distinct clus-
ters were identiﬁed: Skeptics, Nominals, and Devouts.
Surprisingly, of the three clusters, Nominals and Devouts
were the only groups impacted by narcissism, although
Skeptics overall demonstrate the worst ethical judgment.
Keywords Narcissism Á Ethical judgment Á
Orthodox beliefs Á Religiosity Á Cluster analysis
As many of the world’s religions present a set of moral and
ethical guidelines to adherents, most people intuitively
believe that there is a relationship between religiosity and
ethical judgment (cf., Drane 1976; Miller 1999; Weaver
and Agle 2002). Although this link is only in the early
stages of exploration with relatively few studies pertaining
to religiosity’s impact on business ethics (Weaver and Agle
2002), some interesting ﬁndings already are apparent (cf.,
Vitell 2009). In general, religiosity appears to affect ethical
judgment, but the precise nature of this relationship is still
One of the most pressing questions with respect to reli-
giosity and ethics is why some people who evince high levels
of religiosity and commitment also commit acts of egre-
giously unethical behavior, such as exploiting the under-
privileged (e.g., Andaya 2010; Razu 2006) or engaging in
illicit sexual behavior (e.g., Groome 2011; Smyntek 2006).
Although some posit no relationship between religiousness
and moral reasoning—notably, Kohlberg (1984)—the
weight of the evidence suggests otherwise (cf., Vitell 2009).
Thus, the pursuit of additional personal characteristics that
moderate the effects of religiosity on ethical judgment is
Narcissism is a human personality trait that shows
promise in partially explaining individuals’ departure from
solid ethical judgment. Narcissists tend to ignore the rules
that govern the behavior of others (Rosenthal and Pittinsky
2006), to attain personal goals at the expense of others
(Glad 2002), and to be insensitive to what society expects
of them in terms of conformity to its norms (Kramer 2003).
Therefore, it is reasonable to hypothesize that even though
an individual’s religious commitment would logically
preclude unethical behavior, a person might be seduced by
his or her own narcissism into engaging in acts that are
unethical and possibly illegal.
This study contributes to the body of knowledge on
religiosity and ethical judgment in the following important
ways: (1) a typology of three clusters is presented, each of
which reﬂects a different degree of commitment to the
historically orthodox theology of the Christian religion; (2)
the cluster parameters include measures of both intrinsic
and extrinsic religiosity; (3) the cluster parameters also
include subjects’ adherence to orthodox Christian beliefs,
thus taking into account the lack of congruency across
M. J. Cooper (&) Á C. Pullig
Marketing Department, Baylor University, One Bear Place,
#98007, Waco, TX 76798, USA
J Bus Ethics
respondents with respect to the content of their faith; and
(4) the effect of narcissism on those who are marginal or
non-adherents, moderate adherents, and highly committed
adherents to the Christian religion is explored.
Religiosity and Ethical Judgment
A number of authors recognize the importance of religion
in inﬂuencing ethical judgment as well as ethical intentions
and behavior (cf., Ji 2004; McDaniel and Burnett 1990;
Vitell 2009; Vitell and Paolillo 2003). Several studies ﬁnd
that subjects who exhibit higher levels of religiosity are
also more likely to identify questionable behaviors as
unethical (e.g., Kennedy and Lawton 1998; Rashid and
Ibrahim 2008; Singhapakdi et al. 2000; Vitell et al. 2005,
2006). Bloodgood et al. (2008) successfully demonstrate
the effect of frequency of worship service attendance on
student cheating. Peterson et al. (2010) use a single-item
self-reporting question querying the extent that respondents
consider themselves to be religious. In this study, the
degree of religiosity is statistically signiﬁcant but explains
only a negligible percentage of the variance in business
One of the most widely used instruments is derived from
Allport and Ross’s (1967) Scale of Religious Orientation
(SRO), which examines both intrinsic and extrinsic reli-
giosity. One who is extrinsically motivated toward reli-
gious actions does so primarily to use religion to satisfy his
or her own ends, whereas a person who is intrinsically
motivated approaches religion as a way of life, because its
values have become internalized (Allport and Ross 1967).
The extrinsic scale subdivides into two distinct dimensions
(Kirkpatrick 1988). ‘‘Ep’’ designates items that allude to
religiosity motivated by personal reasons, while ‘‘Es’’
stands for items that represent social motivation for reli-
Vitell et al. (2005), using both extrinsic and intrinsic
adaptations of SRO to assess the impact of religiosity on
consumer ethics, ﬁnds that intrinsic religiousness, but not
extrinsic religiousness, is a determinant of consumer ethi-
cal beliefs. This ﬁnding is replicated in a subsequent study
(Vitell et al. 2006). Vitell et al. (2007) also ﬁnd that
extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity are both linked to con-
sumers’ ethical beliefs, along with subjects’ money ethic
and attitude toward business.
Even though a number of studies support a positive
relationship between religious adherence and ethical
judgment, the results of research into this provocative topic
are equivocal. For example, Hegarty and Sims’ (1979)
study of graduate students’ ethical decision-making ﬁnds
no effects of religious values. Kidwell et al. (1987),
assessing the effects of religious preference and frequency
of church attendance on ethical perceptions, ﬁnd no sig-
niﬁcant effects of religious preference or frequency of
church attendance on managers’ perceptions of ethical
situations. Conroy and Emerson (2004), using merely
church attendance as a surrogate for religious commitment,
ﬁnd partial support for an effect of religiosity on ethical
judgments. Also, Kurpis et al. (2008) fail to ﬁnd support for
their hypothesis that religiosity is positively related to the
recognition of ethical problems; although they do ﬁnd
partial support that religiosity is positively related to ethical
behavioral intentions. In one study (Keller et al. 2007),
religiosity is determined by asking respondents which
standard they use to make ethical decisions—utilitarian,
egoistic, religious, deontological, hermeneutics, or
amoral—where religiosity is the dominant model of ethical
decision-making. Therefore, in spite of a promising
beginning, additional work on the relationship between
religiosity and business ethics is warranted. Moreover,
results from studies to date suggest that religiosity is best
represented by an instrument that captures both intrinsic
and extrinsic religious commitment.
Orthodox Christian Belief
In addition to equivocal ﬁndings with respect to the inﬂu-
ence of religiosity on business ethics, religiosity as a
concept is under-deﬁned in studies in that it is often treated
as if the content of religious belief and commitment were
of little relevance to the study. On the contrary, it is likely
that commitment to one set of religious beliefs produces
dramatically different behaviors compared to an equivalent
level of commitment to a different set of religious beliefs.
Even Allport and Ross’s (1967) SRO that differentiates
intrinsic from extrinsic religious orientation fails to specify
the content of the theological persuasion to which subjects
adhere. In this study, we speciﬁcally examine the inﬂuence
of orthodox Christian beliefs on ethical judgment.
According to Fullerton and Hunsberger (1982, p. 318),
religious orthodoxy is ‘‘the acceptance of well-deﬁned,
central tenets of’’ a given religion. Orthodox Christian
beliefs have been found to inﬂuence a variety of human
attitudes and behaviors. For example, older adolescents
report signiﬁcantly less permissive sexual attitudes among
those who adhere to orthodox beliefs (Fehring et al. 1998).
Ji et al. (2011) ﬁnd that youth who espouse orthodox
Christian beliefs report less depression and less ideation of
suicide than others. Similarly, Watson et al. (1988) also
ﬁnd orthodox beliefs to be correlated with less depression
and less narcissistic exploitation of others. Moreover,
Broughton (1975) ﬁnds that the certainty of orthodox
Christian belief itself inﬂuences religiosity among subjects.
Thus, the content of religious belief—its theology—and
M. J. Cooper, C. Pullig
not merely religious commitment in and of itself, shows
promise in explaining some variation in behavior patterns
(cf., Donahue 1989).
For this study, it is important to identify the religious
persuasion posited to underlie ethical judgment as well as
the degree to which respondents adhere to the recognized
tenets of the religion of interest. One would be remiss to
uncritically assume that all religious belief systems are
equally efﬁcacious in affecting ethical judgment; that the
decision rules employed under various belief systems
would have consistent results; and that only the magnitude
of commitment to religion in general is at issue. For these
reasons, a scale of Christian orthodoxy is employed, though
future studies could similarly examine the ethical impact of
various other religious traditions.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association
(2000), deﬁnes narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as
someone whose behavior is ﬁttingly described by ﬁve of nine
characteristics. These include: (1) an exaggerated sense of
brilliance, beauty, or ideal love; (3) belief thatone is ‘‘special’’
and should only associate with and can only be understood by
other high-status people; (4) demand for excessive admiration
from others; (5) a sense of entitlement; (6) objectiﬁcation of
others to achieve personal ends and gratiﬁcation; (7) lack
of empathy; (8) envy of others or belief that others are envious
of oneself; (9) haughty, arrogant, patronizing, or contemptu-
ous behavior or attitudes toward others. However, narcissistic
behaviors appear to constitute a continuum ranging from mild
to severe; thus a somewhat more nuanced approach to diag-
nosis will be taken in the proposed revisions for the upcoming
Some studies involving narcissism deal exclusively with
clinical populations. For example, perpetrators of domestic
violence evidence narcissistic tendencies varying from
subclinical to full-blown psychopathology (Rothschild et al.
1997). However, more work focuses on narcissism in sub-
clinical populations. Even without manifestations of out-
right psychopathology, narcissists’ behavior is notable for
its negative impact on those with whom narcissists interact.
For example, narcissism is positively associated with hav-
ing multiple sexual affairs along with higher numbers of
partners cheated on (Hunyady et al. 2008). Moreover, nar-
cissists show higher levels of aggression toward others and
are more likely than non-narcissists to perpetrate unpro-
voked aggression against colleagues (Reidy et al. 2010).
In organizational settings, narcissists tend to point out
their high achievements, which in turn garners them sup-
port and power (Goldman 2009, pp. 30–54). In fact, what
appears to be high performance in the short-term often
gives way to long-term problems, masked by expedient
actions undertaken by the narcissist in order to appear
successful (Campbell et al. 2005). Narcissists, therefore,
may make good impressions early in the relationship, but
they tend to wear out their welcome in the long run. For
this reason, colleagues often reverse their early positive
attitudes (Paulhus 1998).
Narcissists as managers lack listening skills and the
ability to focus in order to ﬁnd orderly solutions to business
problems (Maccoby 2004). They tend to be impatient with
the details and easily distracted. In addition, they are quick
to point out others’ faults but are incapable of true empathy
and slow to contribute positive input unless it relates to
their own performance.
As narcissists’ perspectives are self-focused, they have
difﬁculty getting along with others and can be extremely
sensitive to any criticism or challenge to their authority
(Campbell et al. 2004). For similar reasons, they hold
grudges until they can exact retribution for even the
smallest slights (Downs 1997, pp. 37–42). The enigma of
narcissism is that although narcissists have extraordinarily
inﬂated egos, they are also extremely sensitive to criticism.
In addition to a multitude of other dysfunctional
behaviors, narcissists have a tendency to be more unethical
than others. For example, narcissism is one predictor of
white-collar crime in business (Blickle et al. 2006). Nar-
cissism is also associated with being comfortable engaging
in ethically questionable sales behaviors, although narcis-
sism is not correlated with sales achievement or perfor-
mance (Soyer et al. 1999). In addition, Penney and Spector
(2002) ﬁnd that narcissism is a moderator of subjects’
counterproductive work behaviors, including unethical
actions, with those higher in narcissism willing to engage
in signiﬁcantly more negative behavior.
Campbell et al. (2005), in an experiment with a renew-
able forest, ﬁnd that narcissists harvest more timber than the
non-narcissists, but in the process they deplete what was to
be a long-term natural resource. By putting their own
acquisitiveness ahead of the greater good, these narcissists’
short-term achievement effectively destroys the long-term
viability of an important resource. Thus, research substan-
tiates the notion that narcissists will engage in self-
aggrandizing behavior at the expense of colleagues and at
the expense of the organization or community as a whole.
The questions we address herein are threefold. First,
what is the impact of intrinsic and extrinsic (both personal
and social) religiosity on ethical judgment? What is the
effect of commitment to Christian orthodoxy on ethical
I’m Number One!
judgment? And, importantly, how are the effects of reli-
giosity and orthodoxy on ethical judgment moderated by
subjects’ levels of narcissism? By looking at both intrinsic
and extrinsic religiosity, we examine how narcissism
affects those with varying religious commitment. Within
each type of religious commitment, we also view adher-
ence to or lack of adherence to orthodox Christian belief
and whether those who hold such beliefs are inﬂuenced by
narcissistic tendencies. Our dependent variable, ethical
judgment, is used to determine which proﬁle of religiosity
and orthodox belief is most susceptible to poor ethical
judgment and the role of expressed narcissistic personality
traits for those who differ in terms of their religious views.
An online survey method is used to collect data from 423
undergraduate Principles of Marketing students who are
given extra credit for participation. Of the surveys collected,
385 are usable. The sample is deemed appropriate for three
reasons. First, all students are business students and can be
expected to carry a close approximation of their current
values and personality traits into the business world in the
future. Second, businesses want to focus their hiring process
on prospective employees who will behave ethically and not
embroil the company in embarrassing and possibly illegal
activities (cf., Traiser and Eighmy 2011). Finally, student
samples are acceptable for establishing relationships
between variables in basic research (Calder et al. 1981).
The dependent variable in this study is respondents’
judgment of ethical scenarios presented in written form in
the survey instrument. To avoid respondent fatigue, we use
a sample of six (6) ethical scenarios from Conroy and
Emerson’s (2004) study. Possible composite scores on these
six items range from a high of 42 (most unethical judgment)
to a low of 6 (least unethical judgment—a = .76).
To assess religiosity, we use Gorsuch and McPherson’s
(1989) revision of Allport and Ross’ (1967) Religious
Orientation Scale. We also use Kirkpatrick’s (1988) results
to differentiate between the extrinsic personal and the
extrinsic social dimensions of the scale. The ﬁnal scale
uses 14 items, seven items each, to capture the intrinsic
(a = .90) and extrinsic (a = .86) dimensions of religiosity.
For orthodox Christian beliefs, we selected a slightly
modiﬁed version of the short form (Hunsberger 1989) of the
original Christian Orthodoxy Scale (Fullerton and Huns-
berger 1982). The seven-item scale has statistical properties
comparable to the long version (Hunsberger 1989). Chris-
tian Orthodoxy is a unidimensional construct that represents
beliefs historically common to Christians based on the
Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
(a = .92).
To measure narcissism, we use the NPI-16 (Ames et al.
2006). This 16-item scale is derived from Raskin and
Terry’s (1988) original 40-item measure. The NPI-16 is
shown to exhibit psychometric properties comparable to
the original form (a = .82). All measures are presented in
This study was approved by the local IRB board, and the
research was performed in accordance with the ethical
standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.
All persons involved in the study gave their informed
consent prior to participating in the study and are offered
the option to withdraw from the study with no penalty.
To test for effects associated with religious orientation and
narcissism, we conduct our analysis in a series of steps.
First, we use cluster analysis to form groups of respondents
based on their religious orientation. Using these clusters,
we examine for differences in ethical judgment. Finally, we
use regression analysis to test for the inﬂuence of narcis-
sism on ethical judgment for each of the different religious
orientation groups. Overall, we ﬁnd three distinct clusters
or groups of respondents based on religious orientation.
These groups are different in terms of ethical judgment and
the effect of narcissism, the regression slope, is different
for one of these groups.
We choose to approach our study using a taxonomic meth-
odology. Prior work examining the effects of religiosity and
ethics often have utilized a correlational framework, with
regression and structural equation modeling being the pri-
mary tools used (e.g., Klemmack et al. 2007; Koenig et al.
1997). As noted by Fife et al. (2011), there are two potential
issues with this approach when studying religiosity. First,
because dimensions of religiosity appear to be highly cor-
related (Koenig et al. 2001), multicollinearity can be an
issue, potentially biasing effects. Second, correlational
approaches are based on the implicit assumption that sepa-
rate dimensions of religiosity operate in an additive manner;
that is, all dimensions are viewed as either positively or
negatively contributing to a person’s religiosity. Attempts to
deﬁne religiosity as a single linear dimension, something
one has more or less of, are likely too simple, and can be
misleading. In using a taxonomic approach, we are able to
describe a person’s religiosity in terms not of being more or
less religious, but as being religious in different ways on
different dimensions (Klemmack et al. 2007; Miller and
Thoresen 2003; Rinaman et al. 2009).
M. J. Cooper, C. Pullig
In conducting our cluster analysis, we follow guidelines
recommended by Hair et al. (2010). The goal of our cluster
analysis is to form similar groups of respondents based on
their religious orientation and degree of agreement with
orthodox Christian beliefs that are sufﬁciently distinct on
each of these dimensions. In our analysis, we use three
religious orientation variables—internal religious orienta-
tion, external religious orientation (personal), external
religious orientation (social)—plus orthodoxy. Each of
these variables is standardized and mean-centered prior to
the analysis. We begin by using a hierarchical approach to
arrive at an appropriate number of clusters. Then, we use a
non-hierarchical approach to reﬁne the cluster membership
for each respondent.
In the hierarchical cluster analysis, we use the Ward’s
method employing squared Euclidian distance to measure
similarity. The Ward’s method is used due to its tendency
to generate homogeneous clusters that are relatively equal
in size (Hair et al. 2010). In using the Euclidian distance to
measure similarity, we lessen any effect of multicolline-
arity (Punj and Stewart 1983). Based on the agglomeration
coefﬁcient generated, the initial cluster results indicate that
a solution from 2 to 5 clusters would be acceptable as each
successive cluster results in an approximately equal
increase in heterogeneity. We save membership of each
respondent for each of these potential solutions and
examine the distinctiveness of each group using an
ANOVA with post-hoc comparisons. Results indicate that
a 3-cluster solution returns three distinct groups, whereas
the 4- and 5-cluster solutions return groups which are not
as distinct. The 2-group solution eliminates an important
group. The resulting 3-cluster solution is used in the next
stage of the cluster analysis.
In the second stage, we use a non-hierarchical clustering
algorithm—K-means clustering. We use the cluster cen-
troids from the initial cluster results as seed points for the
analysis. Using a non-hierarchical analysis to ﬁnalize our
clusters allows for reassignment of respondents to more
appropriate clusters as a part of an optimization procedure.
A K-means approach is a commonly used approach to
assign ﬁnal cluster membership and is especially effective
when non-random starting points are used (Punj and
Stewart 1983; Currim and Schneider 1991). A proﬁle of the
ﬁnal cluster solution is contained in Table 1.
An ANOVA with planned comparisons is conducted to
proﬁle and determine cluster distinctiveness. As antici-
pated, the overall ANOVA is signiﬁcant for the three
religious orientation dimensions as well as orthodoxy,
indicating signiﬁcant differences among the groups of
respondents on each dimension (all F values [34.00, all
p values.01). Follow-up planned comparisons for each of
the religious orientation dimensions are also signiﬁcant,
indicating that each cluster is distinct from the other on
these dimensions (all t values [5.00, all p values .05).
The mean values are indicated in Table 1 along with the
ordinal placement of the mean values among the three
clusters based on the signiﬁcant contrasts. As noted,
Cluster 1 contains 76 respondents who are lowest in
internal religious orientation and orthodoxy but are mod-
erate in their extrinsic religious orientation. We refer to
Cluster 1 as Skeptics. Cluster 2 contains the largest number
of respondents who are moderate in their intrinsic religious
orientation and orthodoxy, but are highest in their extrinsic
religious orientation. We refer to Cluster 2 as Nominal
Christians. Cluster 3 contains 131 respondents who are
highest in their intrinsic religious orientation and ortho-
doxy, and who are lowest in their extrinsic religious ori-
entation. We refer to Cluster 3 as Devout Christians.
Cluster Effects Related to Ethical Judgment
We use the formed clusters in subsequent analysis. First,
we compare for differences in ethical judgment between
the three clusters. An ANOVA with planned contrasts is
performed on the composite ethical judgment variable.
Higher (lower) values are associated with worse (better)
ethical judgment. The overall ANOVA is signiﬁcant,
indicating differences between the three clusters (F =
4.69, p .05). Planned contrasts reveal that Cluster 1 on
average has worse ethical judgment (MeanNarcissism = .30)
than Cluster 2 (MeanNarcissism = -.02, t = 2.62, p .05)
and Cluster 3 (MeanNarcissism = -.15, t = 2.94, p .01).
Table 1 Cluster analysis proﬁles (means/ordinal placement)
Religious orientation dimension Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3
(N = 76) (N = 178) (N = 131)
Int. rel. orientation -1.23 (low) .08 (moderate) .89 (high)
Orthodoxy -1.78 (low) .35 (moderate) .56 (high)
Ext. rel. orientation (pers.) -.15 (moderate) .58 (high) -1.00 (low)
Ext. rel. orientation (soc.) -1.78 (moderate) .14 (high) -.26 (low)
I’m Number One!
The mean values are statistically equal for Clusters 2 and 3
(t = 1.08, p [ .10).
To determine the effect of narcissism within each of the
clusters, a regression is conducted with cluster membership
and narcissism as independent variables and ethical judg-
ment as the dependent variable. We include a dummy
variable coded as ‘‘1’’ for membership in a speciﬁc cluster
and ‘‘0’’ if not a member of that cluster. We also include a
test of equality of slopes to determine whether the inﬂuence
of narcissism is equal across all three clusters (Ho: b1 =
b2 = b3).
Regression results for the full model are included in
Table 2. The model is signiﬁcant (F = 8.98, R2
and narcissism is a signiﬁcant predictor of ethical judgment
(b = .208, p .05). Importantly, the test of equality of
slopes is signiﬁcant (F = 4.02, p .05) indicating that the
effect of narcissism is not equal for all clusters. In Table 3,
we present the simple slopes for the effect of narcissism
along with the mean for ethical judgment within each
cluster. As noted, the standardized regression beta for
narcissism’s effect on ethical judgment is signiﬁcant for
Cluster 2 (b = .320, p .01) and Cluster 3 (b = .261,
p .01). However, narcissism is not a signiﬁcant predictor
of ethical judgment for Cluster 1 (b = .12, p [ .10). The
regressions slopes for each cluster are shown in Fig. 1.
As follow-up to the regression analysis, we conduct a
series of comparisons by forming a new grouping variable
of respondents at the highest (upper quartile) and lowest
(lower quartile) end of the spectrum of reported narcissism.
We compare respondents in the different clusters within
each range of narcissism. As indicated in the regression
slope analysis, respondents in the lowest range of narcis-
sism exhibit the worst ethical judgment in the Skeptic
cluster (Cluster 1) when compared to the Nominal cluster
(Cluster 2: t value = 2.34, p .05) and Devout cluster
(Cluster 3: t value = 2.70, p .01). However, respondents
in the highest range of narcissism report equally poor
ethical judgments across all clusters (Cluster 1 vs. 2:
t value = 1.02, p [ .10; Cluster 1 vs. 3: t value = 1.33,
p [ .10, Cluster 2 vs. 3: t value = .87, p [ .10).
One of the enduring criticisms of those who claim to be
Christian is the oft-observed discrepancy between some
adherents’ stated religious beliefs and their unethical
behavior. In fact, public examples abound of those self-
identiﬁed as Christians who have acted in ways contrary to
Christian teaching. Since unethical judgment seems
incongruent with sincere religious commitment and an
orthodox Christian belief system, this study examines one
hypothesis as to why such discrepancies occur. That is, we
looked at how levels of narcissism moderated the effects of
subjects’ extrinsic and intrinsic self-reported religiosity as
well as their agreement with orthodox Christian beliefs on
their ethical judgment.
One important ﬁnding from this study was the emer-
gence of three distinct clusters of subjects, which we have
termed Skeptics, Nominal Christians, and Devout Chris-
tians. Not only are the Skeptics low in professed internal-
ization of their religious faith, but they also largely reject
foundational Christian teachings that have been
Table 2 Regression results for full model
) .13 (.11)
** p .01; * p .05
Table 3 Effects for cluster membership and narcissism on ethical
Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3
(N = 76) (N = 178) (N = 131)
Mean ethical judgmenta
.30 -.02 -.15
Std. b (narcissism) .12ns
** p .01; * p .05
Lower mean denotes better judgment
Fig. 1 Simple slopes for narcissism by cluster
M. J. Cooper, C. Pullig
acknowledged by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and
Protestant denominations since the earliest days of the
Church. The Skeptic’s orientation toward religiosity is
largely external, when it exists at all, suggesting that reli-
gion is a convenience that Skeptics adopt for social and
personal reasons. Notably, Skeptics in general exhibit
worse ethical judgment than respondents in either of the
other two clusters.
Nominal Christians (Cluster 2) are moderate in their
intrinsic religious orientation as well as in their orthodox
beliefs. However, they are high in their extrinsic religious
orientation, both personal and social, which suggests that
these Christians focus more on their identity within the
Christian sub-culture than on the inherently unique (com-
pared to other religious traditions) beliefs and behavioral
aspects of their religious commitment.
Devout Christians (Cluster 3) are high in intrinsic reli-
gious orientation and orthodoxy, which indicates that they
fully internalize Christian beliefs and values. They are low
in extrinsic religious orientation, both personal and social,
also indicating that they discriminate between a truly
Christian commitment and a mere external accommodation
to the sub-culture.
Our taxonomic approach is validated by the ways in
which these clusters differ in their religious orientation.
The measured dimensions are not additive. In addition, the
usage of a taxonomic approach allows us to uncover the
subtlety of effects due to narcissism in relation to religi-
osity. Our results demonstrate that narcissism operates
differently depending on one’s faith orientation. Subjects in
both Clusters 2 and 3 show better ethical judgment than the
Skeptics overall but especially those whose narcissistic
tendencies are at the low end of the spectrum. However, the
situation undergoes a notable alteration as levels of nar-
cissism rise for subjects within each cluster. Both Nominals
and Devouts show degrees of poor ethical judgment equal
to that of the Skeptics when accompanied by higher
degrees of narcissism, a ﬁnding that suggests a dramatic
transformation for both Nominals and the Devouts when
ethical judgment is clouded by narcissistic tendencies.
For the Skeptics, the range of scores for ethical judg-
ment from low to high lacks the range that is found for the
Nominals and the Devouts. Moreover, increased narcissism
among Skeptics does not result in signiﬁcantly worse eth-
ical judgment. However, the same cannot be said for the
Nominals or the Devouts. For both of these clusters, as
narcissism increases among subjects so does the tendency
to demonstrate worse ethical judgment. Thus, a higher
level of narcissism is more likely to be associated with
unethical judgment among Nominal Christians and Devout
Christians than Skeptics. That is, the effects of high levels
of narcissism appear to dominate ethical judgment
regardless of the effects of religious orientation or orthodox
beliefs, and narcissism is more harmful in those who might
be expected to be more ethical.
Even so, the ﬁndings are perhaps not surprising when
comparing Skeptics with Nominal Christians. Though
Skeptics appear to have little use for orthodox Christianity,
they may have internalized other religious or ethical stan-
dards to which they adhere in place of Christianity.
Nominals, on the other hand, appear to give lip service to
the Christian sub-culture but to lack depth in their internal
commitment to the tenets of the faith, including those
teachings that impact ethical judgment. Thus, it is possible
that Skeptics’ susceptibility to the effects of narcissism is
less obvious because the internalization of their ethical
standard is more pronounced than the Nominals’ superﬁcial
internalization of a Christian-based ethical standard.
An explanation for the Devout cluster is not so easily
hypothesized. There is an inherent contradiction between
high levels of narcissism and adherence to Christian ortho-
doxy that causes these ﬁndings to be surprising and to seem
counterintuitive. This discrepancy seems apparent because
the teachings of Christ make clear believers’ responsibility
to put others before themselves, to uphold what is right even
in difﬁcult circumstances, and to make ethical decisions in
submission to the transcendent authority and command-
ments of God. Thus, we conclude that the negative impact of
narcissism is sufﬁciently intrusive and powerful that it
entices people into behaving in ways inimical to their most
deeply held beliefs. In short, the narcissistic Devouts who
may choose to exercise their poor ethical judgment would be
committing acts that are, according to their own internalized
value system, blatantly hypocritical.
Such a ﬁnding helps explain why religiosity alone does
not produce consistent responses with respect to ethical
judgment in the ethics literature (e.g., Hegarty and Sims
1979; Kidwell et al. 1987; Kurpis et al. 2008). Our ﬁndings
suggest that statements of religiosity and commitment to
orthodox beliefs are insufﬁcient to predict good ethical
judgment. Moreover, if respondents choose to act in
accordance with their poor ethical judgment, they will be
acting contrary to what one might expect to observe. These
ﬁndings may also explain something about why religious
people make decisions that are unethical and immoral:
another behavioral driver, narcissism, acts as a powerful
inducement to commit unethical acts. Narcissism, with its
emphasis on self-serving opinions and actions, represents
the ﬂawed nature of human beings that Christian orthodoxy
addresses. However, some adherents may choose not to
exercise the option of subordinating their selﬁshness to
their belief system.
The fact that unethical judgment is less likely to occur
among Nominals and Devouts when narcissism is low
suggests direction for addressing ethical training in the
classroom and for sensitizing employees concerning ethical
I’m Number One!
standards in the workplace. Narcissism among participants
in ethics training seminars and classes should be assessed
and addressed in order to confront its pitfalls. Though
people will always be tempted to act in ways that are self-
serving, the fact of heightening awareness of the powerful
effects of narcissism on ethical judgment could be helpful
in offsetting future unethical decisions. In addition, effec-
tive interventions to identify and deter narcissistic behav-
iors are not well-known but may show potential for
improving an organization’s ethical climate.
Appendix: Scale Items
Ethical Judgments (Conroy and Emerson 2004)
Please read each of the following scenarios and indicate to
what degree you believe the behavior is acceptable:
(1 = ‘‘Never Acceptable’’ to 7 = ‘‘Always Acceptable’’)
• An underpaid executive padded his expense account by
about $3,000 a year.
• A company paid a $350,000 ‘‘consulting’’ fee to an
ofﬁcial of a foreign country. In return, the ofﬁcial
promised assistance in obtaining a contract that will
produce $10 million proﬁt for the contracting company.
• A corporate executive promoted a loyal friend and
competent manager to the position of divisional vice
president in preference to a better-qualiﬁed manager
with whom he had no close personal ties.
• As part of the marketing strategy for a product, the
producer changed its color and marketed it as ‘‘new and
improved,’’ even though its other characteristics were
• Martha is a new sales representative who is taking over
a sales territory in which her ﬁrm has been unsuccessful
in landing a very large client, Giant, Inc. determined to
make the sale, Martha decided to violate company
policy and pay for a gift to Giant, Inc.’s manager.
• An electricity producer decided not to upgrade a
smokestack scrubber since its releases are still within
the legal limits and the upgrade would reduce proﬁts by
Religiosity (Gorsuch and McPherson 1989)
For each of the following statements, please choose the
response that is reﬂective of your own beliefs: (1 = ‘‘I
strongly disagree’’ to 5 = ‘‘I strongly agree’’—I = Intrin-
sic, Es = Extrinsic Social, Ep = Extrinsic Personal)
• I enjoy reading about my religion. (I)
• I go to church because it helps me to make friends. (Es)
• It doesn’t much matter what I believe so long as I am
• It is important to me to spend time in private thought
and prayer. (I)
• I have often had a strong sense of God’s presence. (I)
• I pray mainly to gain relief and protection. (Ep)
• I try hard to live all my life according to my religious
• What religion offers me most is comfort in times of
trouble and sorrow. (Ep)
• Prayer is for peace and happiness. (Ep)
• Although I am religious, I don’t let it affect my daily
• I go to church mostly to spend time with my friends.
• My whole approach to life is based on my religion. (I)
• I go to church mainly because I enjoy seeing people I
know there. (Es)
• Although I believe in my religion, many other things
are more important in life. (I)
Orthodox Christian Beliefs (Hunsberger 1989)
For each the statements below please choose the response
that is reﬂective of your own beliefs: (1 = ‘‘Strongly dis-
agree’’ to 6 = ‘‘Strongly agree’’)
• Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God.
• The Bible may be an important book of moral
teachings, but it was no more inspired by God than
were many other such books in the history of human
• The concept of God is an old superstition that is no
longer needed to explain things in the modern era.
• Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God
provided a way for the forgiveness of people’s sins.
• Despite what many people believe, there is no such
thing as a God who is aware of people’s actions.
• Jesus was cruciﬁed, died, and buried, but on the third
day He rose from the dead.
• God is one in essence and yet is three persons: Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit.
Narcissim—NPI-16 (Ames et al. 2006)
Please read each pair of statements and then choose the one
that is closer to your own feelings and beliefs. Indicate
your answer by choosing the statement that best represents
your feelings. (Coded 0–1)
I know that I am good because everybody keeps
telling me so.
M. J. Cooper, C. Pullig
When people compliment me I sometimes get
I like to be the center of attention.
I prefer to blend in with the crowd.
I think I am a special person.
I am no better and no worse than most people.
I like having authority over people.
I don’t mind following orders.
I ﬁnd it easy to manipulate people.
I don’t like it when I ﬁnd myself manipulating
I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.
I usually get the respect that I deserve.
I am apt to show off if I get the chance.
I try not to be a show off.
I always know what I am doing.
Sometimes I am not sure of what I am doing.
Everybody likes to hear my stories.
Sometimes I tell good stories.
I expect a great deal from other people.
I like to do things for other people.
I really like to be the center of attention.
It makes me uncomfortable to be the center of
People always seem to recognize my authority.
Being an authority doesn’t mean that much to me.
I am going to be a great person.
I hope I am going to be successful.
I can make anybody believe anything I want them to.
People sometimes believe what I tell them.
I am more capable than other people.
There is a lot that I can learn from other people.
I am an extraordinary person.
I am much like everybody else.
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