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Published in: Journal of Business Ethics 2/2021

17-08-2020 | Original Paper

Peer Ostracism as a Sanction Against Wrongdoers and Whistleblowers

Authors: Mary B. Curtis, Jesse C. Robertson, R. Cameron Cockrell, L. Dutch Fayard

Published in: Journal of Business Ethics | Issue 2/2021

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Abstract

Retaliation against whistleblowers is a well-recognized problem, yet there is little explanation for why uninvolved peers choose to retaliate through ostracism. We conduct two experiments in which participants take the role of a peer third-party observer of theft and subsequent whistleblowing. We manipulate injunctive norms (whether company policy is ambiguous or unambiguous regarding the action) and descriptive norms (whether others behave similarly). Both experiments (1) support the core of our theoretical model, based on social intuitionist theory (Haidt in Psychol Rev 108:814–834, 2001), such that moral judgments of the acts of wrongdoing and whistleblowing influence the perceived likeability of each actor and ultimately influence intention to ostracize each actor and (2) indicate more willingness to ostracize the whistleblower than the wrongdoer. When we vary norms for the wrongdoing in Experiment 1, we find that descriptive and injunctive norms indirectly influence intentions to ostracize both the wrongdoer and whistleblower. These relationships are serially mediated by the observers’ moral judgments of the act (wrongdoing or whistleblowing) and likeability of the actor (wrongdoer or whistleblower). When we vary norms for whistleblowing in Experiment 2, the injunctive norm manipulation affected moral judgment of the action of whistleblowing, and we do not observe any other significant effects of the norm manipulations on moral judgments of the actions of wrongdoing or whistleblowing.

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Appendix
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Footnotes
1
Anecdotal evidence of negative attitudes toward whistleblowing include former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers’ attorney calling employees “snitches” (Cooper 2008, p. 357) and General MacArthur’s statement, “My father and mother have taught me these two immutable principles—never to lie, never to tattle” (Pershing 2003, p. 149).
 
2
Moral intuition is “the sudden appearance in consciousness of a moral judgment, including an affective valence (good-bad, like-dislike), without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion” (Haidt 2001, p. 818). “Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning.” (Haidt 2012, p. xiv).
 
3
We adapted the scenario from Liyanarachchi and Newdick (2009) and Arnold and Ponemon (1991); we received IRB approval for both experiments.
 
4
Our payment is typical given the completion time; approximately, half of MTurkers earn an hourly rate of less than $5.00, while approximately half earn $5.00 or more per hour (Hitlin 2016).
 
5
We conducted an exploratory factor analysis of responses using a principle components extraction method and Varimax rotation for each mediating variable and the dependent variable for both experiments.
 
6
When all participants are included in the sample, our conclusions remain unchanged.
 
7
Concerning the control variables, whistleblower Personal Norm did not vary across the two levels of Injunctive (t254 = 1.267, p = 0.206) or Descriptive Norm (t254 = 0.332, p = 0.740). Similarly, wrongdoer Personal Norm did not vary across the two levels of Injunctive (t254 = 0.114, p = 0.910) or Descriptive Norm (t254 = 0.362, p = 0.718).
 
8
We employed path analysis, rather than structural equation modeling (SEM), for two reasons. First, the experiments contain manipulations, which are arguably not appropriate for SEM (Bagozzi and Yi 1989). Second, the degrees of freedom necessary to adequately model our variables are prohibitive (Tomarken and Waller 2005).
 
9
Our theory focuses on how moral judgments of one actor lead to likeability and subsequent ostracism of the same actor. This result indicates that likeability of one actor influences intentions to ostracize the other actor.
 
10
When all participants are included in the sample, our conclusions remain unchanged.
 
11
Concerning control variables, as in Experiment 1, whistleblower Personal Norm did not vary across levels of descriptive norm (t220 = 0.207, p = 0.836); injunctive norm has a marginal influence (t220 = 1.955, p = 0.052). Wrongdoer Personal Norm did not vary across levels of injunctive (t220 = 1.017, p = 0.310) or descriptive norm (t220 = 1.788, p = 0.075). Combined with Experiment 1, our manipulations do not affect personal norms at p < 0.05.
 
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Metadata
Title
Peer Ostracism as a Sanction Against Wrongdoers and Whistleblowers
Authors
Mary B. Curtis
Jesse C. Robertson
R. Cameron Cockrell
L. Dutch Fayard
Publication date
17-08-2020
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Published in
Journal of Business Ethics / Issue 2/2021
Print ISSN: 0167-4544
Electronic ISSN: 1573-0697
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04596-0

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