COR Faculty Workshop
Friday, December 5
Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway SBSG 1321
Prof. Chris Bauman
Merage School of Business
Blame the Shepherd not the Sheep: Subordinates who Imitate Authorities are Absolved of Moral Responsibility
Discussants: Prof. Joey Cheng (Social Ecology) and Prof. Lyman Porter (Merage)
Leaders often leverage social learning processes to influence group norms and promote desirable behavior. When authorities misbehave, however, the bad examples they set can endorse and even exonerate unethical behavior. Yet, current models of blame and punishment focus on characteristics of acts, transgressors, and punishers and fail to consider the organizational context in which transgressions occur. We propose that organizational precedence for specific misdeeds can influence punishment recommendations, even when the acts themselves are obviously against company rules. Five studies supported our claim. Specifically, Study 1 revealed that employees who observed unethical behavior at work felt more entitled to act similarly if the unethical actor was high but not low status in their organization. Study 2 found that people generally recommended harsher punishment for employee thefts of greater than lesser amounts, but punishment recommendations were low, irrespective of the amount taken, when higher status employees first modeled the behavior. Studies 3 and 4 showed that differences in attributed levels of personal responsibility explained why people recommended less punishment for low status individuals who imitated theft by high (vs. low) status others. Finally, Study 5 indicated that punishment recommendations were lower when the high and low status transgressors were from the same organization, but not when the high status transgressor was from a different organization within the same industry. Taken together, results indicate that transgressions modeled by high status, in-group members license imitators unethical behavior by releasing them from moral accountability.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, December 1. Lunch will be provided.