Dangerous Expectations: Breaking Rules to Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

42 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2014

See all articles by Celia Moore

Celia Moore

Imperial College Business School; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

S. Wiley Wakeman

London Business School

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: August 25, 2014

Abstract

When entering task performance contexts we generally have expectations about both the task and how well we will perform on it. When those expectations go unmet, we experience psychological discomfort (cognitive dissonance), which we are then motivated to resolve. Prior research on expectancy disconfirmation in task performance contexts has focused on the dysfunctional consequences of disconfirming low performance expectations (i.e., stereotype threat). In this paper we focus on the dysfunctional consequences of disconfirming high performance expectations. In three studies, we find that individuals are more likely to break rules if they have been led to expect that achieving high levels of performance will be easy rather than difficult, even if breaking rules means behaving unethically. We show that this willingness to break rules is not due to differences in legitimate performance as a function of how easy people expect the task to be, or whether their expectations are set explicitly (by referring to others’ performance) or implicitly (as implied by their own prior performance). Instead, using a misattribution paradigm, we show that cognitive dissonance triggered by unmet expectations drives our effects.

Keywords: Rule breaking, Unethical Behavior, Expectancy Disconfirmation, Cognitive Dissonance, Misattribution

Suggested Citation

Moore, Celia and Wakeman, S. Wiley and Gino, Francesca, Dangerous Expectations: Breaking Rules to Resolve Cognitive Dissonance (August 25, 2014). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 15-012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2486576 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2486576

Celia Moore

Imperial College Business School ( email )

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, Greater London SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

S. Wiley Wakeman

London Business School ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London, London NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

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

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