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UNETHICAL behaviour is contagious. It spreads like a virus, says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University.It can contaminate business, government and society. It is set off by exposure to the bad behaviour of others and the effect is insidious, passing from one person to the next, leading to a deterioration in the collective ethical norm. What was once unacceptable behaviour becomes possible and eventually endemic, a "new normal".SA’s future is threatened by the unethical virus.Studies show that the bad actions of leaders are especially contagious, and have a remarkable capacity to influence others. It is for this reason that the damage they inflict extends far beyond the direct financial cost of their dishonest and corrupt behaviour. Unethical leaders, to quote George Orwell, "play with fire without realising that fire is dangerous".But there is a flipside to moral contagion. Susceptibility to influence can also be positive. Just as unethical...

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