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
Date Written: 2014
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.
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