Dan Ariely: Contagion of Unethical Behavior- The effect of one bad apple on the barrel
Think influence… (nice paper with Ariely as a co author)
Abstract(Francesca Gino,Shahar Ayal, and Dan Ariely)
In a world where encounters with dishonesty are frequent, it is important to know if exposure to other people’s unethical behavior can increase or decrease an individual’s dishonesty. In Experiment 1, our confederate cheated ostentatiously by finishing a task impossibly quickly and leaving the room with the maximum reward. In line with social-norms theory, participants’ level of unethical behavior increased when the confederate was an in-group member, but decreased when the confederate was an out-group member. In Experiment 2, our confederate instead asked a question about cheating, which merely strengthened the saliency of this possibility. This manipulation decreased the level of unethical behavior among the other group members. These results suggest that individuals’ unethicality does not depend on the simple calculations of cost-benefit analysis, but rather depends on the social norms implied by the dishonesty of others and also on the saliency of dishonesty.
Findings (Francesca Gino,Shahar Ayal, and Dan Ariely)
Taken together, the findings suggest that peer influence is an important factor in unethical behavior. Prior research has shown that ethical climate and ethical culture are important predictors of the frequency of unethical acts within groups and organizational settings (for a review, see Loe, Ferrell, & Mansfield, 2000,or Ford & Richardson, 1994). Although we recognize the importance of such macrocomponents, we believe that microelements, such as the behavior of one particular individual in a group, can also have large consequences.
Our findings suggest that relatively minor acts of dishonesty by in-group members can have a large influence on the extent of dishonesty, and that techniques that help to stigmatize the bad apples as out-group members and strengthen the saliency of their behavior could be useful tools to fight dishonesty.