Blame the shepherd not the sheep: Imitating higher-ranking transgressors mitigates punishment for unethical behavior
Do bad role models exonerate others’ unethical behavior? Based on social learning theory and psychologicaltheories of blame, we predicted that unethical behavior by higher-ranking individuals changes howpeople respond to lower-ranking individuals who subsequently commit the same transgression. Fivestudies explored when and why this rank-dependent imitation effect occurs. Across all five studies, wefound that people were less punitive when low-ranking transgressors imitated high-ranking membersof their organization. However, imitation only reduced punishment when the two transgressors werefrom the same organization (Study 2), when the transgressions were highly similar (Study 3), and whenit was unclear whether the initial transgressor was punished (Study 5). Results also indicated that imitationaffects punishment because it influences whom people blame for the transgression. These findingsreveal actor-observer differences in social learning and identify a way that unethical behavior spreadsthrough organizations.
Behavioral ethics, Retributive justice, Punishment, Imitation, Social learning, Rank, Status, Blame
Applied Behavior Analysis | Counseling | Counseling Psychology
Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
BAUMAN, Christopher W.; TOST, Leigh Plunkett; and ONG, Madeline.
Blame the shepherd not the sheep: Imitating higher-ranking transgressors mitigates punishment for unethical behavior. (2016). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 137, 123-141. Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School Of Business.
Available at: http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/5095