Moral Suspicion Trickles Down

Moral Suspicion Trickles Down

By
Takuya Sawaoka, Benoît Monin
Social Psychological and Personality Science. April
2015, Vol. 6, Issue 3, Pages 334-342

In social hierarchies, moral stigma spreads down more than up. Across four vignette studies, exposure to the immoral behaviors of higher (vs. lower) ranking group members led online participants to report greater moral suspicion toward other group members (moral spillover). A higher ranking organization member’s deceptive practices were perceived as more prototypical, resulting in more negative moral impressions of the organization (Study 1). This more negative moral impression led people to rate ambiguous behavior by another organization member as more suspicious—even when the prior transgression was purely self-serving (Study 2). These effects generalized across several types of moral transgressions (Study 3). Finally, a higher ranking organization member’s unethical behavior led other organization members to receive more negative job-hiring recommendations (Study 4). Thus, a higher ranking group member’s ethical violations result in greater moral spillover, affecting not only other group members’ moral reputations but their career prospects as well.