Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions

Bohns, V. K., Roghanizad, M. & Xu, A. (2014). Underestimating our influence over others’ unethical behavior and decisions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 348-362.

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 Last revised: 2 Feb 2016

Vanessa K. Bohns

Cornell University

Mahdi Roghanizad

University of Waterloo

Amy Xu

University of Waterloo

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

We examined the psychology of “instigators,” i.e., people who surround an unethical act and influence the wrongdoer (the “actor”) without directly committing the act themselves. In four studies, we found that instigators of unethical acts underestimated their influence over actors. In Studies 1 and 2, university students enlisted other students to commit a “white lie” (Study 1) or commit a small act of vandalism (Study 2) after making predictions about how easy it would be to get their fellow students to do so. In Studies 3 and 4, online samples of participants responded to hypothetical vignettes, e.g., about buying children alcohol, and taking office supplies home for personal use. In all 4 studies, instigators failed to recognize the social pressure they levied on actors through simple unethical suggestions, i.e., the discomfort actors would experience by making a decision that was inconsistent with the instigator’s suggestion.

Suggested Citation

Bohns, Vanessa K. and Roghanizad, Mahdi and Xu, Amy, Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions (2014). Bohns, V. K., Roghanizad, M. & Xu, A. (2014). Underestimating our influence over others’ unethical behavior and decisions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 348-362.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2340860

Vanessa K. Bohns (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

394 Ives Faculty Bldg
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Mahdi Roghanizad

University of Waterloo ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

Amy Xu

University of Waterloo ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

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