Title

Blame the shepherd not the sheep: Imitating higher-ranking transgressors mitigates punishment for unethical behavior

Publication Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

9-2016

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Behavioral ethics, Retributive justice, Punishment, Imitation, Social learning, Rank, Status, Blame

Discipline

Applied Behavior Analysis | Counseling | Counseling Psychology

Research Areas

Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources

Publication

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

Volume

137

First Page

123

Last Page

141

ISSN

0749-5978

Identifier

10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.08.006

Publisher

Elsevier

Additional URL

1

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