By Vanessa K. Bohns
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally published February 7, 2014
Here is an excerpt:
Countless studies have subsequently shown that we find it similarly difficult to resist social pressure from peers, friends and colleagues. Our decisions regarding everything from whether to turn the lights off when we leave a room to whether to call in sick to take a day off from work are affected by the actions and opinions of our neighbors and colleagues.
But what about those times when we are the ones trying to get someone to act unethically? Do we realize how much power we wield with a simple request, suggestion or dare? New research by my students and me suggests that we don’t.
The entire article is here.
The research article is here.
We examined the psychology of “instigators,” people who surround an unethical act and influence the wrongdoer (the “actor”) without directly committing the act themselves. In four studies, we found that instigators of unethical acts underestimated their influence over actors. In Studies 1 and 2, university students enlisted other students to commit a “white lie” (Study 1) or commit a small act of vandalism (Study 2) after making predictions about how easy it would be to get their fellow students to do so. In Studies 3 and 4, online samples of participants responded to hypothetical vignettes, for example, about buying children alcohol and taking office supplies home for personal use. In all four studies, instigators failed to recognize the social pressure they levied on actors through simple unethical suggestions, that is, the discomfort actors would experience by making a decision that was inconsistent with the instigator’s suggestion.