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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Apr 25. doi: 10.1037/xge0000608. [Epub ahead of print]

Collectives in organizations appear less morally motivated than individuals.

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Department of Management and Organization, University of Southern California.
Department of Management and Industrial Relations, University of Hawaii.
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia.


Organizations often benefit from signaling moral values. Across 5 studies, we explore how people attribute moral conviction to different organizational agents. We find that people believe collectives (e.g., groups; entire organizations) have less moral conviction than individuals, even when both agents behave identically (Studies 1 and 2). We test a variety of potential mechanisms for this effect, and find evidence for two parallel pathways: first, people believe collectives have less of a capacity for emotional experience, and therefore are less likely to use emotions when making decisions; and second, people believe collectives are also more self-interested, and therefore more likely to behave out of concern for their reputations rather than morality (Study 3). In examining boundary conditions for this effect, we find that it occurs when people judge generic for-profit companies and government entities, but not family businesses or charities (Study 4). Finally, we demonstrate that, because collectives appear less morally motivated than individuals, people also assume collectives will exhibit less persistence after enacting prosocial initiatives (Study 5). We discuss theoretical, practical, and social implications of these differing attributions of moral conviction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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