In Preparation

“The Lesser of Two Evils: Revealing the Choice Set to Signal Good Intentions” (with Andras Molnar), in preparation for submission to Judgment and Decision Making.

Many situations require people to pick among only bad options, and in some of these cases, observers will only see the selected option (e.g., policy-makers voting on one of two bills, both of which negatively impact voters in some way). As a result, observers may attribute bad intentions to the decision-maker. Impression management in such cases is not about making the right choice—there are only bad choices—but instead, it is about explaining one’s choice, or revealing the choice set, to signal good intentions. To what extent does this motivate people? And is it a motivation that is intrinsic, i.e., present even when there are not reputational consequences? In two studies (N = 896), we investigated these questions, finding that people were willing to reveal their choice set to the other person, even in a one-shot anonymous interaction with no reputational consequences—they were even willing to pay money to do this. This was primarily restricted to cases when revealing would signal good, rather than bad, intentions, indicating that the desire is not “to be understood” generally, but “to be understood as good.”

“Fourth Party Punishment: When do people punish bystanders?” (with Lauren Kaufmann), in preparation for submission to Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Recent events have suggested that humans sometimes place blame for a transgression on “bystanders,” i.e., those who observe a transgression but fail to punish the transgressor. This is apparent in, for example, the ousting of Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach, for failing to fire the assistant coach, who was an alleged child abuser. Despite this common observation, very little research has examined the extent to which people are willing to punish bystanders. In a series of five studies (N = 1,531), we find that people (1) people are willing to punish bystanders, but not as many people as are willing to punish the original transgressor; (2) however, conditional on wanting to punish, people were willing to engage in the same type and extent of punishment towards the bystander and transgressor; (3) though bystanders are not seen as less moral or less warm than witnesses who were unable to get involved, bystander behavior is seen as “less appropriate” and this drives the difference in punishment behavior; (4) people are more willing to punish bystanders who failed to help the victim than bystanders who failed to punish the transgressor — reflecting that society expects bystanders to help victims more than it expects bystanders to punish transgressors; and (5) offering an apology can reduce aggression towards a bystander. Next, we are exploring bystander punishment in the workplace with an autobiographic recall study with real employees to assess what moderates bystander disapproval in the real world. We will also be exploring what individual differences (e.g., guilt-proneness, self-monitoring, etc.) are associated with the drive to punish bystanders.

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