We examine the impact of activated (salient) versus non-activated ethical norms on the aggressiveness of accounting decisions, in the presence of self-interest favoring aggressiveness. Using a case in which the accounting rules are ambiguous, we ask professional accountants to make an accounting decision as though they were in their own organization; we measure the ethical norms of their organization at the end of the experiment. Based on the focus theory of normative conduct, we argue that the general ethical norms of the participants’ organizations are activated when the decision structure is such that the participant receives a recommendation from a subordinate, whereas those norms are not activated when the participant is making the decision alone. We find that higher ethical norms decrease aggressiveness when the decision maker receives a recommendation, whereas higher ethical norms have no impact on aggressiveness when the decision maker makes the decision alone. Our results demonstrate that general ethical norms, known to impact decisions having clear ethical content, can also curb accounting aggressiveness when these norms are activated. Furthermore, firm practices such as decision structure can activate norms. These findings are of interest to practitioners and regulators who seek to temper aggressive accounting.