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Watching porn at work makes people behave unethically, BYU study finds

By Lauren Bennett, KSL.com | Posted - Jun 26th, 2019 @ 4:05pm



SALT LAKE CITY — While it may seem obvious that watching pornography in the office can increase unethical behavior in the workplace, a new BYU study found statistically significant numbers that shows it does exactly that.

The study, titled "The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business," was published in the Journal of Business Ethics and authored by BYU accounting professors Melissa Lewis-Western and David Wood, as well as Nathan Mecham, former BYU grad student who's now a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh.

The experiment involved 200 participants divided into two groups; one group was asked to recall and record their last experience viewing pornography, and the control group was instead asked to recall and record their most recent experience exercising. For ethical reasons, researchers didn't expose participants directly to pornography.

Researchers then tasked both groups with watching the entirety of a "boring" 10-minute video that had a monotone voice speaking, according to the study. In the research paper, authors explained the video was meant to be boring to "provide an incentive for participants to skip the movie."

The results showed that 21% of the first group did not finish watching the video and lied about it, whereas only 8% in the control group didn't finish the movie and lied. "This represented a statistically significant 163 percent increase in shirking work and lying for those who view pornography," according to a news release from BYU.

Along with the experiment, the study also issued a nationally representative survey of 1,000 people, which yielded similar evidence to the experiment.

The research also found that the rise in unethical behavior is caused by an increased inclination to dehumanize others. In other words, pornography consumption makes the viewer more susceptible to viewing others as objects or less than human, according to the study.

Viewing pornography at work is fairly common, the research paper pointed out. It cited a 2018 survey that found nearly 60% of respondents watch pornography at work, with half viewing pornography on a monthly basis and 10% watching it daily.

“If you have a larger portion of your employees that are consuming pornography at work, it’s likely changing their behaviors and those changes are likely negative,” Lewis-Western said in a statement. “Regardless of your stance on pornography, most people want to be good employees, they want to be fair to men and women and they don’t want to be unethical. That’s where we need to start the conversation. We need to refrain from viewing pornography to create work environments that are inclusive to all.”

The study suggested measures companies can take to reduce and prevent pornography consumption at the office, such as internet filters, punitive policies against viewing it at work, and hiring employees who are less likely to view pornography than others.

“Pornography is often framed as an issue affecting only individuals and relationships outside of a business context,” Lewis-Western's statement reads. “But businesses are made up of people, and people make decisions and businesses function off the decisions people make. If you have a societal phenomenon that a lot of people are participating in and it negatively impacts individuals’ decisions, that has the potential to impact organizational-level outcomes.”

Sexual harassment or hostile work environments is likely to increase alongside increased employee pornography consumption, Wood and Mecham noted in a news release.

“Organizations should be mindful of those risks,” Mecham said.

Researchers note in the paper it is typically believed the dehumanizing acts depicted in pornography lead to the viewer dehumanizing people, namely women.

“Almost everyone cares about the #MeToo movement and women, but if you care about that, then you have to care about this issue too,” Lewis-Western said. “If your manager is regularly watching pornography at work, then our research suggests that the way you are treated is going to be different in negative ways."

Lauren Bennett

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