Thick as Thieves? Dishonest Behavior and Egocentric Social Networks

Posted: 12 Feb 2015

See all articles by Julia Lee

Julia Lee

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Dong Kyun Im

University of Seoul

Bidhan L. Parmar

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Date Written: February 10, 2015

Abstract

People experience a threat to their moral self-concept in the face of discrepancies between their moral values and their unethical behavior. We theorize that people’s need to restore their view of themselves as moral activates thoughts of a high-density personal social network. Such thoughts also lead people to be more likely to engage in further unethical behavior. In five experiments, participants reflected on their past unethical behavior, and then completed a task designed to measure network density. Those who cheated more frequently in the past, recalled their negative moral identity, or decided to lie were more likely to activate a high-density network (Experiment 1-3). Using a mediation-by-moderation approach (Experiment 4), we confirm that this link between dishonesty and network density is explained by a threat to positive self-concept. Importantly, activating a dense network after engaging in dishonest behavior allows further dishonest behavior in a subsequent task (Experiment 5).

Keywords: social network structure; network density; dishonesty; ethics; self-affirmation

Suggested Citation

Lee, Julia and Im, Dong Kyun and Parmar, Bidhan L. and Gino, Francesca, Thick as Thieves? Dishonest Behavior and Egocentric Social Networks (February 10, 2015). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 15-064. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2563196 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2563196

Julia Lee

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
United States
734-647-4606 (Phone)

Dong Kyun Im

University of Seoul ( email )

Seoul
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

Bidhan L. Parmar

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

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

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