The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty

53 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2014

Date Written: April 28, 2014


To create social ties to support their professional or personal goals, people actively engage in instrumental networking. Drawing from moral psychology research, we posit that this intentional behavior has unintended consequences for an individual’s morality. Unlike personal networking in pursuit of emotional support or friendship, and unlike social ties that emerge spontaneously, instrumental networking in pursuit of professional goals can impinge on an individual’s moral purity — a psychological state that results from viewing the self as clean from a moral standpoint — and make an individual feel dirty. We theorize that such feelings of dirtiness decrease the frequency of instrumental networking and, as a result, work performance. We also examine sources of variability in networking-induced feelings of dirtiness by proposing that the amount of power people have when they engage in instrumental networking influences how dirty this networking makes them feel. Three laboratory experiments and a survey study of lawyers in a large North American law firm provide support for our predictions. We call for a new direction in network research that investigates how network-related behaviors associated with building social capital influence individuals’ psychological experiences and work outcomes.

Keywords: Networking, Morality, Dirtiness, Power

Suggested Citation

Casciaro, Tiziana and Gino, Francesca and Kouchaki, Maryam, The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty (April 28, 2014). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-108, Available at SSRN: or

Tiziana Casciaro

University of Toronto ( email )

105 St George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Maryam Kouchaki

Northwestern Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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