Abstract While joint ethical violations are fairly common in the marketplace and in workplace, sports-team, and academic settings, little research has studied such collaborative wrongdoings. This work compares the joint ethical decisions of pairs of people (i.e., dyads) to those of individual decision makers. Four experiments demonstrate that dyads in which the partners do not share a social bond with each other behave less ethically than individuals do. The authors propose that this effect occurs because joint ethical violations offer a means to socially bond with others. Consistent with this theory, they demonstrate that the dyads’ subethicality relative to individuals is attenuated (1) if the dyad partners establish rapport prior to the joint decision making, and (2) in decision-making contexts in which social bonding goals are less active—namely, making a decision with an out-group versus in-group member. Taken together, this research provides novel theoretical insights into the social aspects of unethical behavior, offers suggestions to improve ethicality in joint decisions, and raises important questions for future research. unethical decisions, cheating, ethical, dyads, joint decision making, social bonding Individuals make ethical decisions with a range of others over the course of their lives. While we sometimes make these decisions with people we know well, we may also make decisions with people whom we have little or no preexisting relationship with: in the United States about 2.2 million high school students entered college in fall 2016 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017), where they are likely to make joint living decisions immediately on arrival. About 66% of the 40 million single Americans using online dating services (Statistic Brain Research Institute) indicate that they have gone on a date with someone they met online (Smith and Anderson 2016), suggesting that tens of thousands of first dates happen every day. New coworkers may be tossed immediately into collaborative ethical decisions related to hiring or income reporting. How do we make ethical decisions in such contexts? Will dating partners report an undercharged bill to the server on a first date? Will new college roommates steal pizza left in the dorm refrigerator for a shared dinner or pool their money to buy their own? Will new coworkers divulge a risky employment situation to a potential hire? In the present article, we compare the outcomes of ethical decisions made jointly by dyads to ethical decisions made by individuals. First, we find that dyads where partners do not a priori share a social bond can, in some situations, show subethicality compared to individuals. We propose that this occurs because joint unethical behavior offers a means of achieving social bonding goals. Consistent with this theory, we show that the subethicality of dyads is attenuated when dyad partners establish rapport prior to the joint ethical decision. In this case, the dyads’ subethicality is reduced to the level of unethicality displayed by individual decision makers. Further, supporting the role of social bonding goals in driving dyads’ subethicality, we demonstrate that such goals are significantly more active when one makes a joint decision with an in-group versus out-group member; as a result, it is only dyads of in-group partners that behave less ethically than individuals. By contrast, out-group member dyads and individuals are equally ethical. As a whole, our work makes several important contributions. First, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first research to compare individual to joint dyadic ethical decisions, thus extending existing research that has focused only on ethical decisions made by individuals (Mazar, Amir, and Ariely 2008). This comparison is crucial in that it allows us both to show the way that behavior changes based on context and to show the effectiveness of a simple intervention in reducing subethicality. Second, our findings contribute to the understanding of the social aspects of unethical behavior and highlight that joint unethical decisions have not only economic (Becker 1974) but also social affiliation benefits that could, under certain circumstances, drive unethicality. Third, our findings challenge warnings against close relationships in work contexts (Bramel and Friend 1987; Homans 1951) and add to existing work revealing significant benefits of friendships in such settings (Berkowitz 1954; Dailey 1977; Evans and Dion 1991; Shah and Jehn 1993). Specifically, our work suggests that allowing individuals to socially bond with each other before entrusting them with joint decisions is actually very important, at least if ethics are at play. Finally, our work contributes to an emerging stream of research that examines the interplay of relationship dynamics and various consumer decisions (Dzhogleva and Lamberton 2014; Etkin 2016; Huang et al. 2015; Simpson, Griskevicius, and Rothman 2012), and suggests fruitful possibilities for future work in this area. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK The Influence of Social Factors on Individual Unethical Behavior Research on individual decision making identifies numerous cases where the presence of others makes us behave less ethically. This subethical behavior may exist, first, because unethical behavior can be construed as beneficial to others, reducing perceptions that it is, in fact, unethical at all (Erat and Gneezy 2012; Gino and Pierce 2009a; Gneezy 2005; Thau et al. 2015; Wiltermuth 2011; Wiltermuth, Bennett, and Pierce 2013). For instance, Wiltermuth (2011) shows that the opportunity to split the benefits of dishonesty with another person (even a stranger) allows people to perceive their unethical behavior as less morally wrong and thus increases dishonesty. This effect might be exacerbated when an individual’s actions benefit a close other (Brass, Butterﬁeld, and Skaggs 1998; Gino, Ayal, and Ariely 2013). Another stream of research argues that observing unethical others can license individuals to subsequently behave in ethically irresponsible ways (Gino, Ayal, and Ariely 2009; Gino and Bazerman 2009; Gino and Galinsky 2012; Pitesa and Thau 2013; Steinel and De Dreu 2004; Yam, Chen, and Reynolds 2014). Here, seeing either highly self-relevant others (Gino et al. 2009; Gino and Galinsky 2012) or a high proportion of others engaging in unethical behaviors (Yam et al. 2014) licenses us to follow suit. For example, Gino and Galinsky (2012) demonstrate that feeling psychologically close to an unethical actor leads to more lenient moral judgments and thus makes people more likely to behave unethically themselves. Finally, a third stream of research considers the way that unethical behavior may be used by individuals to cope with or adjust to social contexts they feel put them at a disadvantage relative to other individuals (Gino and Pierce 2009b; John, Loewentstein, and Rick 2014; Schwieren and Weichselbaumer 2010). Schwieren and Weichselbaumer (2010) demonstrate that poorly performing individuals in a competition are more likely to act unethically either to retain some chances of winning or to avoid embarrassment due to their poor performance. Researchers have also examined how conditions of inequality can increase people’s tendency to make unethical decisions, demonstrating that the salience of upward social comparisons (e.g., seeing other people earn more money for the same task; John et al. 2014), and the envy resulting from negative inequality with a partner (Gino and Pierce 2009b), increases unethical behavior. Based on this literature, we may conclude that other people make us behave badly either because doing so may benefit them, is licensed by them, or allows us a better relative position than them. But this literature on individual behavior is difficult to apply to joint ethical decisions. First, this work has studied the decisions of individuals who might be influenced by the presence or behaviors of others. However, these present others are not directly involved in the decision-making process and typically do not share the outcome of the decision. In contrast, in joint dyadic decisions, individuals work together in order to reach a single decision and both partners experience its consequences (Gorlin and Dhar 2012). For example, individuals on a date may decide together whether to hop movies without buying an extra ticket, new college roommates may decide whether it is acceptable to take a pizza left in a communal refrigerator back to their room, or new coworkers may decide whether to alter sales figures in a presentation they will give. Because these individuals would both gain or lose based on the joint decision, it is not clear how perceived benefits would drive ethical decision making. Second, since both are making one joint decision at the same time, one partner’s behavior does not subsequently license the other’s. Third, if the decision is made jointly and the outcomes are shared, joint dyadic decisions do not allow one partner to compete or establish equality with the other, making such theory a poor fit. Thus, we draw on theory related to interpersonal perceptions, relationships, and goals to identify the possible outcomes of joint ethical decision making in dyads. Joint Unethical Decisions: Superethicality or Subethicality Relative to Individual Decisions? Overall, we might anticipate that the dyadic decision-making context, in which the two partners have to disclose and discuss their preferences, might lead them to adopt impression management goals. In this thinking, individuals would attempt to create a favorable image in the eyes of their partner relative to their typical behavior to achieve a particular goal (Baumeister 1982; Gollwitzer 1986; Leary and Kowalski 1990; Wicklund and Gollwitzer 1982). But how are impression management goals served in an ethical decision-making context? Would the favorable image one would like to create in front of their decision-making partner be that of a more or less ethical person? And as a result, would the dyads be superethical or subethical relative to individual decision makers? In fact, the existing literature offers opposing predictions. On one hand, research suggests that dyads could be more ethical than individuals. Such effects would be consistent with accountability research, which suggests that “the need to justify one’s views to others” should encourage more careful, accurate, and justifiable joint decisions than when one is making decisions alone (Lerner and Tetlock 1999; Seeley and Gardner 2006; Tetlock and colleagues 1983, 1987). Virtuous behaviors, such as behaving in ethically responsible ways and making ethical decisions, are usually more easily justified than are less ethical ones (Okada 2005). Therefore, impression management that is responsive to accountability concerns might lead the partners to lean toward more ethical decisions than they would on their own (Lerner and Tetlock 1999). That is, if dyad members have a goal to be accountable to each other, consumer dyads should show heightened ethicality relative to individuals. On the other hand, it is also theoretically plausible that dyads will be subethical compared to individuals. We propose that this effect will be more likely when consumers hold bonding goals rather than accountability goals. First, developmental psychology research notes a connection between rule breaking and interpersonal liking: Wentzel (1994) suggests a positive relationship between classroom rule breaking and peer liking, showing that rule-breaking students are typically liked more by their peers than more disciplined classmates. Second, recent research on individual behaviors finds that individuals who make sequential solo decisions intuit that matching others’ “misbehaviors” can facilitate social bonding (Lowe and Haws 2014; Mead et al. 2011; Santor, Messervey, and Kusumakar 2000; Wentzel 1994). Lowe and Haws (2014) demonstrate that when indulgence does not hinder goal progress, matching the indulgent behavior of a partner leads to greater social affiliation. Similarly, succumbing to peer pressure to misbehave (e.g., skip classes, get drunk, do drugs) appears to raise popularity (Santor et al. 2000). Further, research shows that feelings of exclusion increase willingness to engage in consumption of an illegal drug in order to bond with a partner (Mead et al. 2011). These findings suggest that consumers might intuit the relationship between “misbehaviors” and social bonding and as a result might be willing to misbehave in a variety of ways—especially when bonding goals are active. To the extent that unethical behavior is a form of “misbehavior” and consumers believe bonding may follow joint violations, consumers who have active bonding goals might be willing to behave less ethically in their joint decisions than they would do on their own. As a result, in such cases consumer dyads will display subethicality relative to individuals. When will consumers hold social bonding goals more strongly than accountability goals? Social bonds offer the evolutionary benefits of survival and safety, and thus people have a powerful innate need to create social relationships with others (Baumeister and Leary 1995; Buss and Kenrick 1998). In fact, the need to bond with others is considered one of the most powerful and fundamental motivations behind human behavior (Baumeister and Leary 1995). Indeed, in his pyramid of human needs, Maslow (1968) placed the need for social bonds immediately above basic physiological (hunger, thirst) and safety needs, highlighting the importance of forming relationships. This implies that simply being in a dyad may automatically activate a strong bonding goal. As a result, we should see subethicality in the joint decisions of nonbonded dyads relative to individuals. Thus, on a first date, we might gleefully hop movies even if we would never have done so before. New roommates may find the opportunity to pilfer a pizza to be a means of becoming closer friends. In sum, we predict that the ethicality of dyadic decisions versus individual decisions will depend on whether dyads hold a bonding goal: when dyad partners have unsatisfied bonding goals, dyads will be less ethical in their joint decisions than individuals. However, if the dyad partners’ bonding goals are either satisfied via alternative means prior to joint decision making, or are less active due to dyad composition, the dyads will exhibit similar levels of ethicality as individuals. Note that our current theory does not make predictions about the levels of ethicality exhibited by strongly bonded dyads, such as happily married couples, relative to individual decision makers. We anticipate that the accountability goals will be more strongly activated in such dyads because the strongly bonded partners might perceive themselves as a part of a single collective unit (Agnew et al. 1998; Baldwin 1992; Planalp 1987) and develop a couple-oriented identity (cognitive interdependence; Agnew et al. 1998). As a result, the actions of the dyad have strong implications for the partners’ moral self-definition, leading to greater accountability. Thus, it is possible that strongly bonded dyads might in fact display superethicality relative to individuals. Though we offer preliminary evidence for this in the General Discussion, we hope that future research will further investigate the joint ethical decisions of strongly bonded dyads. Across four studies utilizing a variety of ethical decisions, we consistently show subethicality among dyads that do not have an a priori bond, and provide support that social bonding goals are a key driver of this tendency. Specifically, study 1 demonstrates that nonbonded dyads are more willing than individual decision makers to inflate their quiz score in order to increase their chances of winning money. Studies 2A and 2B replicate this with two different unethical decisions (not disclosing important information in a workplace ethical dilemma in study 2A; falsely reporting task completion in a real letter writing task in study 2B) and, more importantly, show that the subethicality tendency of dyads can be mitigated if they are offered other opportunities to bond (a relationship closeness induction task; Sedikides et al. 1999) prior to the ethical decision. Study 3 offers additional process evidence by varying the extent to which social bonding goals are active—namely, whether the joint decision is made with an in-group or out-group member. We show that consumers have a greater desire to form social bonds with in-group than out-group members. Correspondingly, in-group dyads were more likely to claim an unwarranted bonus than individuals and out-group dyads. Throughout our studies, we also rule out mechanisms besides the desire to bond that might also predict subethicality of dyads relative to individuals. STUDY 1 Method Study 1 followed a two-cell (decision-making mode: dyad vs. individual) design. Participants (n = 205, 44.9% male, Mage = 19.9 years) were undergraduate students at a large public university; they were recruited through a paid subject pool and completed the study as a part of a 30-minute research session in exchange for $5. First, participants were either randomly paired with another participant from the session whom they did not know (to create nonbonded dyads; n = 74 dyads) or asked to work individually (n = 57 individuals). Then, the dyads and individual decision makers (collectively referred to as “participants” hereafter) followed a procedure developed by Weiss and Johar (2016) and modeled after a problem-solving task developed by Mazar et al. (2008) where participants are given the option to fraudulently inflate their quiz performance in order to increase their chances of receiving additional monetary rewards. First, participants were told that they would have to complete a general knowledge quiz consisting of 15 multiple-choice questions. If they did better than 50% of the participants on this quiz, they would be entered into a drawing for the chance to win an additional $50. Thus, the higher a participant’s quiz score, the greater the chance that the participant would be entered into the drawing for the additional monetary reward. The dyads completed the quiz together on one computer, while the individual decision makers worked alone. Importantly, before beginning the quiz, all participants were told that the current study would be performed on a new data collection system and that previous attempts with the system had shown that it sometimes inverts the order of numbers that are saved to the database. Participants were advised to double-check that the information was correct, because the quiz score saved by the system would determine their eligibility to participate in the drawing for the additional $50. The quiz consisted of two parts. In the first part, participants were given seven multiple-choice questions, each worth four points. The quiz was designed in such a way that everyone answered five out of the seven questions correctly, thus scoring 20 points. Participants were provided with a summary of their performance on the first part of the quiz and told that the number of points that would be added to their record toward the drawing was “20.” They were asked if they saw any inconsistency in the number of recorded points: “If you see any inconsistency between the figures choose the ‘inconsistent’ checkbox and move on to update the figures. Otherwise, choose the ‘consistent’ checkbox and move on to the next part of the quiz.” The unethical opportunity occurred in the second part of the quiz, which consisted of eight multiple-choice questions, each worth nine points. In part two, the questions were also designed such that everyone answered five correctly. Participants were told: “You answered correctly on 5 of the 8 questions, each worth 9 points, which sums up to a total of 45 of 72 possible points.” Next, all participants were notified that the number of points that would be added to their record toward the drawing was “54.” As in part one, participants were asked whether they saw any inconsistency in the number of recorded points. They had the opportunity to select that the information was “consistent” (i.e., the number of points recorded was correct), or to select that the information was “inconsistent” (i.e., the number of points recorded was incorrect) and update the number of points to be added to their record for the drawing. Participants’ responses to this question constituted our focal measure of their unethical behavior. Those who indicated that the information was “consistent” (21 individuals and 37 dyads) were classified as behaving unethically because they did not disclose that their actual performance was 45 rather than 54 points (as recorded by the system). Similarly, participants who indicated that the information was “inconsistent” and updated the points to higher than 45 points (10 individuals and 17 dyads) were also classified as behaving unethically since they inflated their performance. Finally, participants who indicated that the information recorded by the system was “inconsistent” with their actual performance and reported that they had accumulated 45 points were classified as behaving honestly. The study concluded with demographic questions. Analysis and Results In some studies, some respondents provided partial data on some variables; where data are available, they are included in the analysis. In this and all subsequent studies in which gender was collected, we checked whether the gender composition of the dyad (male-male, male-female, and female-female) had any impact on its joint unethical decisions. Results revealed no difference in the unethical decisions among gender types of dyads in any study. An analysis of the incidence of unethical behavior, using a Chi-square test, revealed that 73% of the dyads versus 54.4% of the individual decision makers lied in reporting their performance (χ2(1) = 4.88, p = .03). A logistic regression predicting whether participants behaved unethically or not (coded as 1 = lied; 0 = did not lie) also revealed that dyads were significantly more likely to lie than the individuals (b = .82, exp(b) = 2.26, Wald χ2(1) = 4.80, p = .03); in fact, for dyads the likelihood of acting unethically increases by approximately 2.3 times.1 Discussion Study 1 supports our prediction that dyads who do not share an a priori social bond behave subethically relative to individuals. Specifically, we show that in comparison to individuals, the dyads were more likely to cheat and misreport their quiz performance to increase their chance of earning additional money. The next study replicates this effect with a different ethical decision and provides evidence of the underlying mechanism—namely, that social bonding goals drive the tendency for dyads to behave subethically relative to individuals. STUDY 2 Studies 2A and 2B provide process evidence by manipulating the existence of social bonds between the dyad members. Since bonding goals are fundamental human motivations and are thus likely to be automatically activated in nonbonded dyads (Baumeister and Leary 1995; Buss and Kenrick 1998; Maslow 1968), we use an established relationship closeness induction paradigm (Sedikides et al. 1999) to satisfy participants’ social bonding goals prior to the joint decision, anticipating that this will attenuate the dyads’ subethicality relative to individuals. In study 2A, responses to a hypothetical ethical dilemma replicate the basic finding that dyads show less ethical behavior in joint decisions than do individuals when partners do not share a social bond. Importantly, we also demonstrate an attenuation of this effect in dyads in which the partners’ bonding goals are satisfied via a relationship closeness induction task prior to the focal ethical decision. Study 2B replicates these effects with a consequential ethical decision, showing again that nonbonded dyads behave more unethically than bonded dyads. STUDY 2A Method Study 2A followed a three-cell (bonded dyads, nonbonded dyads, individuals) design. Participants (n = 232, 50.3% males, Mage = 20.7 years) were undergraduate students at a large public university who completed the study in exchange for course credit or a small payment. Controlling for the type of compensation does not change the results. We report the results without using compensation type as a covariate in the analysis. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions (bonded dyads, nonbonded dyads, and individual decision makers). The conditions were randomized between the sessions rather than within each session due to the logistics of the procedure in the bonded dyads condition that required everyone to go through the same procedure at the same time. Procedure for the Dyads Condition. Participants assigned to the bonded dyads condition were first paired with another participant from the same session. The lab administrator ensured that the partners in each dyad did not know each other before entering the lab. Then the pairs completed the Relationship Closeness Induction Task (RCIT), a validated manipulation for building new social bonds in an experimental setting (Sedikides et al. 1999; as used by Small and Simonsohn 2008). Briefly, dyad partners engaged in a natural conversation with each other using three question lists. Following Sedikides et al. (1999), the dyads spent one minute on the first list, three minutes on the second, and five minutes on the third list of questions. The three lists included personal questions that encouraged the dyad partners to self-disclose and thus build a relationship. The full RCIT procedure is discussed in Sedikides et al. (1999) (details are also available in appendix A, panel A). The manipulation-check measures reported in appendix A, panel A, indicated that the RCIT successfully induced bonding among the bonded dyads (M = 6.01, SD = 1.29 vs. scale midpoint 5, t(80) = 7.20, p < .0001). Participants in the nonbonded dyads condition were given an individual writing task, supposedly designed to examine writing styles. They were asked to write a paragraph describing the room they were in, using as many details as possible (see appendix A, panel B). Finally, the dyads in both the bonded and nonbonded conditions read a scenario in which they imagined that they were negotiating a salary with a job candidate and were faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to lie to this candidate about the job stability to get more favorable performance reviews (adapted from Aquino et al. 2009; see appendix A, panel C). They were instructed by their boss to negotiate as low a salary as possible and were told that the position would be eliminated in six months. Furthermore, they were notified that the candidate was willing to accept a low salary in exchange for a verbal commitment of job security for at least two years. Finally, the dyads were told that there were no other qualified candidates for the position and their failure to hire someone would negatively impact their yearly performance reviews. The dyads then discussed the provided information and jointly indicated how likely they were to disclose the job insecurity to the candidate by responding to the following two questions: “How likely are you to tell the job candidate that the position is certain to be eliminated in 6 months if she/he specifically asks about job security?” (where 1 = “Very unlikely” and 7 = “Very likely”) and “What is the percentage chance that you will tell the job candidate that the position is certain to be eliminated in 6 months if she/he specifically asks about job security?” (where they entered a percentage chance between 0% and 100%). Procedure for the Individual Decision-Maker Condition. Participants assigned to the individual decision-maker condition did not write anything; they immediately proceeded to the salary negotiation scenario and decided alone how they would behave in the situation. The individuals responded to the same two questions, designed to measure their likelihood of notifying the job candidate that the position would be eliminated in six months, as the dyads. Finally, all participants provided demographic information and were dismissed. Analysis and Results When the study was conducted in exchange for course credit, it was part of a one-hour research session and was combined with other studies. In one of the research sessions in which participants were assigned to the nonbonded dyads condition, the study was preceded by another group decision-making study in which participants interacted with one another. Since this unrelated interaction of the participants could have satisfied their social bonding goals, we excluded them from the analysis (14 pairs in total were excluded). We decided on this exclusion prior to the data collection; we note that we did not remove our study from this particular session because this would have resulted in different logistics for the sessions and unnecessarily complicated the execution of the data collection for all involved experimenters. This exclusion left us with 43 pairs in the bonded dyads condition, 38 pairs in the nonbonded dyads condition, and 42 individuals in the individual decision-makers condition. Likelihood of Disclosing Job Insecurity to the Candidate. A one-way ANOVA on the likelihood of disclosing the job instability to the candidate revealed a significant main effect of experimental condition (F(2, 120) = 3.55, p = .03, ηp2 = .06), as shown in figure 1. The nonbonded dyads (M = 3.37, SD = 1.63) were less likely to tell the job candidate that the job would be eliminated in six months than both the bonded dyads (M = 4.30, SD = 1.63, F(1, 120) = 5.95, p = .02, ηp2 = .05) and the individual decision makers (M = 4.21, SD = 1.88, F(1, 120) = 4.83, p = .03, ηp2 = .04). There was no difference between the individuals and the bonded dyads (p = .81). FIGURE 1 View largeDownload slide STUDY 2A: ETHICAL TENDENCIES OF DYADS AND INDIVIDUALS FIGURE 1 View largeDownload slide STUDY 2A: ETHICAL TENDENCIES OF DYADS AND INDIVIDUALS Percentage Chance of Revealing Job Insecurity to the Candidate. Since the dependent variable was censored between 0% and 100%, we analyzed the data using a Tobit regression model. Results again demonstrated that both the bonded dyads (M = 58.78%, SD = 28.58; b = 17.66, t(119) = 2.44, p = .01) and individual decision makers (M = 55.30%, SD = 32.00; b = 14.53, t(119) = 1.99, p = .05) were more likely to disclose the job insecurity to the candidate than the nonbonded dyads (M = 42.45%, SD = 27.25). There was no difference in the likelihood to behave unethically between individuals and bonded dyads (p = .65). Discussion Study 2A provides further evidence that dyads use the opportunity to “partner in crime” as a social bonding tool. First, using a different ethical decision we replicate the findings of study 1: nonbonded dyads behave more unethically than individual decision makers. More importantly, we show that this effect is eliminated when dyads are given an alternative to satisfy their bonding goals: here, there is no difference between the unethical decision making of dyads and individuals. Thus, the results from study 2A support our prediction that the dyads’ subethicality will occur in situations in which dyad partners have the need to bond with each other, but disappears when the partners have satisfied this goal. In the next study we apply the same social bonding goals manipulation as in study 2A and replicate the differences in joint ethicality between bonded and nonbonded dyads using a different, consequential, ethical decision. Furthermore, in study 2B we also included measures of responsibility, arousal, guilt, and pride to examine whether these alternative accounts could explain our effects. STUDY 2B Method Study 2B used a two-group (bonded dyads, nonbonded dyads) between-subjects design. Participants (n = 214, 50.2% males, Mage = 21.4 years) were undergraduate students at a private US university who completed the study as a part of one-hour research session in exchange for course credit. At the beginning of the study, the lab administrator paired each participant with another participant whom they did not know prior to the study. The bonded dyads completed the Relationship Closeness Induction Task (RCIT; Sedikides et al. 1999) to bond with each other prior to the focal joint ethical decision, while the nonbonded dyads proceeded to the joint decision-making part of the study without completing the closeness induction task. All dyads were told that the researchers needed help to complete some work for a national charity organization. The dyads were provided with information about the charity The World Needs More Love Letters, which is “the world’s first global love letter writing organization using the power behind social media to write and mail love letters to individuals in need all over the world” (www.moreloveletters.com; see appendix B). The dyads were further asked to write three love letters in response to three requests to help the charity fulfill the overwhelming number of letter requests in a timely manner. The dyads were first presented with a letter request for a couple that had lost their home due to a devastating flood. After writing their encouragement letter for this couple, the dyads were given the second letter request, submitted by a granddaughter asking for letters to lift her 89-year-old grandmother’s spirits. After completing the second letter request, the dyads received the following message on the screen: “Thank you very much for completing all three requests assigned to you! Your letters will be mailed to the recipients shortly.” Below this message we also included the following text: “If for some reason (e.g., technical issues) you did not complete all three love letter requests, please select “We haven’t completed all three requests yet” below and you will be able to go back and review/finish all letters. Otherwise, just click NEXT.” In reality, all dyads had completed just two letter requests (not the three they were ostensibly assigned). The dyads who indicated that they had not completed all three requests were given the third letter request, from the friend of a high school student who had been emotionally hurt and needed some encouragement to start believing in herself. We used whether the dyads wrote the third encouragement letter or not as a measure of their unethical behavior. All letters written by the participants in this study were mailed to the recipients by one of the authors. After completing the letters, the partners in each dyad responded to a set of questions individually and privately from each other. Specifically, we measured how responsible participants felt for the joint decision they made (“I feel personally responsible for the decision we made together,” “I feel personally accountable for the decision we made together,” and “I actively participated in our joint decision-making process;” α = .81, measured on a seven-point scale where 1 = “Strongly disagree” and 7 = “Strongly agree”), how aroused they felt while interacting with their partner (i.e., weary, excited, energetic, active, sluggish, and aroused, measured on a five-point scale where 1 = “Very slightly or not at all” and 5 = “Extremely”; α = .68), as well as how guilty/proud they felt (same five-point scale as the one used for the arousal measures). At the end of the study, participants indicated their gender and age. Analysis and Results Unethical Behavior. A Chi-square analysis of the incidence of unethical behavior revealed that 88.9% of the bonded dyads completed the third letter request, while only 75.5% of the nonbonded dyads did so (χ2(1) = 3.30, p = .07). Alternative Accounts. It could be argued that diffusion of responsibility in dyads licenses both partners to accept less ethical behavior than might be observed among individuals. Although the partners in the bonded dyads (M = 5.02, SD = 1.17) felt slightly more responsible for their joint decision than those in the nonbonded dyads (M = 4.77, SD = 1.25, F(1, 211) = 2.81, p = .10), the average felt responsibility of the two dyad partners within each dyad did not predict whether the dyad behaved unethically or not (p = .52). The fact that felt responsibility is not a significant predictor of the dyads’ ethical behavior suggests that diffusion of responsibility cannot drive the difference in the unethicality of the bonded and nonbonded dyads. Furthermore, there was no difference in the amount of arousal, guilt, and pride experienced by the bonded and nonbonded dyads (all ps > .56), thus ruling out arousal and guilt sharing as alternative explanations of the difference in the unethicality of bonded and nonbonded dyads. All means and standard deviations are reported in table 1. Table 1 Study 2B: Means and Standard Deviations Felt responsibility Arousal Guilt Pride Bonded dyads 5.02 (1.17) 3.56 (.66) 1.36 (.73) 2.33 (1.25) Nonbonded dyads 4.77 (1.25) 3.56 (.60) 1.42 (.84) 2.25 (1.24) Main effect of dyads condition F(1, 211) = 2.81, p = .10 p = .97 p = .56 p = .65 Felt responsibility Arousal Guilt Pride Bonded dyads 5.02 (1.17) 3.56 (.66) 1.36 (.73) 2.33 (1.25) Nonbonded dyads 4.77 (1.25) 3.56 (.60) 1.42 (.84) 2.25 (1.24) Main effect of dyads condition F(1, 211) = 2.81, p = .10 p = .97 p = .56 p = .65 Table 1 Study 2B: Means and Standard Deviations Felt responsibility Arousal Guilt Pride Bonded dyads 5.02 (1.17) 3.56 (.66) 1.36 (.73) 2.33 (1.25) Nonbonded dyads 4.77 (1.25) 3.56 (.60) 1.42 (.84) 2.25 (1.24) Main effect of dyads condition F(1, 211) = 2.81, p = .10 p = .97 p = .56 p = .65 Felt responsibility Arousal Guilt Pride Bonded dyads 5.02 (1.17) 3.56 (.66) 1.36 (.73) 2.33 (1.25) Nonbonded dyads 4.77 (1.25) 3.56 (.60) 1.42 (.84) 2.25 (1.24) Main effect of dyads condition F(1, 211) = 2.81, p = .10 p = .97 p = .56 p = .65 Discussion Study 2B replicates the findings of study 2A and provides additional evidence in support of our predictions. Specifically, we demonstrate that nonbonded dyads behaved more unethically and were more likely to falsely report task completion than dyads that were given the opportunity to bond with each other via an alternative relationship-building task prior to the focal joint decision making. Importantly, study 2B also argues against alternative mechanisms, such as diffusion of responsibility and differences in arousal, guilt, and pride, which could also explain the subethicality of nonbonded dyads. In study 3 we provide additional process evidence using naturally occurring contexts in which participants’ social bonding goals are expected to vary in systematic ways. We note that in the previous studies participants made joint decisions with other in-group members (i.e., other students from the same university) and therefore could be expected to hold a strong bonding goal (Baumeister and Leary 1995; Buss and Kenrick 1998). A separate pretest confirmed this: undergraduate students possess a relatively strong goal to bond with other students from their university whom they do not know (M = 5.13, SD = 1.35 vs. scale midpoint 4, t(176) = 11.11, p < .0001), reflecting the composition of our earlier experimental dyads. In contrast, study 3 manipulated whether participants made a joint ethical decision with an in-group or out-group member, using political affiliation as the basis of group membership. Social categorization research shows that individuals want to affiliate with in-group members but seek to distance themselves from out-group members (Brewer and Brown 1988; Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis 2002; Paladino and Castelli 2008). Thus, we anticipated that, if bonding goals are indeed driving the effects, only in-group dyads will behave more unethically than individuals, while out-group dyads will be as ethical as solo decision makers. Furthermore, in study 3 we again test alternative explanations such as diffusion of responsibility, perceived normativity of the focal unethical behavior, and arousal, guilt, and pride, all of which could lead to the subethicality of dyads. Finally, if indeed social bonding goals raise dyads’ likelihood to behave subethically, we should see its consequences: dyads who behave unethically together should feel closer than those who do not. If this can be observed, then it raises the likelihood that interventions aimed at short-circuiting the bonding-via-unethicality process may be important in curbing these tendencies. STUDY 3 Method Participants (n = 764, 36.5% males, Mage = 37.4 years) were recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and completed the study in exchange for a small payment. Specifically, we recruited participants who indicated that they were a supporter of one of the 2016 presidential election candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The design of the study was a three-cell (dyads with bonding goals, dyads without bonding goals, individuals) between-subjects design. Participants first completed a short task in which they watched a 30-second commercial about a Wi-Fi surfboard and evaluated it on several dimensions (i.e., how informative, funny, professionally executed, and persuasive the commercial was). Procedure for Dyads. Participants in the two dyad conditions were told that the next task involved communicating and making a joint decision with another participant via an online chat platform. Participants were also told that they would receive one randomly selected piece of information about their partner, which they were asked to refrain from discussing. In all cases participants were told the political affiliation of their partner. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions and told that their partner was either a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton or a strong supporter of Donald Trump. Thus, we had two different dyad conditions—dyads with bonding goals (n = 142) in which both partners believed that they were working with a partner with the same political affiliation as them (i.e., a Clinton supporter told that their partner is also a Clinton supporter, or a Trump supporter told that their partner is also a Trump supporter) and dyads without bonding goals (n = 139) in which the two partners believed that they were working with an individual who supported the opposing candidate (i.e., a Clinton supporter told that their partner is a Trump supporter, or a Trump supporter told that their partner is a Clinton supporter). We anticipated that participants’ bonding goals would be stronger when they believed that they would be working with an in-group member than with an out-group member. We conducted a separate pretest, described below, to confirm this. We note that we manipulated people’s perceptions of whether their partner was an in-group or out-group member (i.e., shared the same political affiliation as them) without matching these perceptions with the actual political affiliation of the partner. In other words, a participant who supported Hillary Clinton and was told that their partner was also a Clinton supporter might have unknowingly worked with a Trump supporter. We chose to manipulate people’s perceptions about the political affiliation of their partner rather than actually match participants’ political affiliations for two reasons: (1) logistically, this ensured lower chat room wait time, as participants only had to wait for the next available participant rather than the next available person with a specific political affiliation; and (2) conceptually, this allowed us to ensure that any differences in the unethical decisions between the two types of dyads were not driven by inherent individual differences between them, but rather by beliefs about the other individual’s in-group or out-group status. After receiving the information about their partner’s political affiliation, the partners in each dyad were connected to each other via an online chat platform called ChatPlat, which has been validated in previous research (Brooks and Schweitzer 2011). The dyads were told that due to technical issues purportedly experienced by some respondents, the researchers had decided to give each pair a $2 bonus ($1 for each partner), but that they could opt out from receiving the bonus if they had not encountered any technical problems while taking the survey. The dyads were asked to use the chat room to discuss their experience of taking the survey with each other and jointly decide whether to opt out of the bonus. Since we ensured that the survey ran smoothly for everyone, no one was entitled to receive the bonus. Therefore, we used the dyads’ decision to opt out of the bonus or not as a measure of their joint ethicality. We note that even if some participants might have experienced unforeseen technical issues beyond our control, such participants should be randomly distributed across the three conditions and thus should not impact the results in any systematic way. The decision was consequential; participants who did not opt out of the bonus received $1 each. Note that this ethical decision was designed in such a way as to be similar conceptually to a common ethical decision that consumers could face in a consumption context—that is, returning extra change given to them by mistake in a variety of settings such as restaurants, cafés, and grocery stores. After making the joint decision, dyad partners left the chat room and individually answered questions regarding their interaction. Specifically, we asked participants three post-decision bonding questions to explore the social benefits of joint unethical decisions (“How much do you like your partner right now?” “How close do you feel to your partner right now?” and “If you had a chance to do another joint task, how likely are you to choose to work with your partner again?” measured on a seven-point scale where 1 = “Not at all” and 7 = “Very much”; α = .84). To rule out other alternative mechanisms, participants also responded to a three-item responsibility scale (“I feel personally responsible for the bonus decision we made,” “I actively participated in the bonus decision we made,” and “I feel personally accountable for the bonus decision we made,” all measured on a seven-point scale where 1 = “Strongly disagree” and 7 = “Strongly agree”; α = .81). Participants also indicated how guilty/proud they felt about the decision they made (1 = “Not guilty/proud at all” and 7 = “Very guilty/proud”), their perceptions of the normative status (“What percentage of other MTurk participants do you think decided to keep the $1 bonus?” measured on a slider scale from 0% to 100%), and riskiness of the unethical behavior (“How risky do you think it is to keep the $1 bonus if you have not experienced any technical problems?” where 1 = “Not at all” and 7 = “Very much”), as well as arousal during the interaction (i.e., weary, excited, energetic, active, sluggish, and aroused, measured on a five-point scale where 1 = “Very slightly or not at all” and 5 = “Extremely”; α = .65). Procedure for Individuals. Participants in the individual decision-makers condition (n = 202) were presented with the same ethical dilemma as the dyads. Instead of discussing their experience of taking the survey with someone else, they were invited to write a short paragraph describing their experience, after which they decided alone whether to opt out of the bonus payment or not. The individual decision makers also responded to a set of post-decision questions, including the same measures of responsibility, guilt/pride, perceptions about the normative status and riskiness of the unethical behavior, and arousal as the ones completed by the dyads. Pretest To confirm that shared presidential candidate support was associated with stronger bonding goals than divergent support, we recruited participants (n = 161, 47.8% males, Mage = 36.6 years) who indicated that they were a supporter of one of the 2016 presidential election candidates—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and asked them to complete the survey in exchange for a small payment. The design of the study was a two-cell (partner’s political affiliation: supporter of Donald Trump; supporter of Hillary Clinton) between-subjects design with the participants’ political affiliation (Clinton or Trump supporter) as the second measured factor. Participants were asked to imagine participating in an online study that required them to communicate and make a joint decision with another participant via an online chat platform. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions and told that their partner was either a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton or a strong supporter of Donald Trump. As in our main study, we created two different dyad conditions—dyads with bonding goals in which the focal participant believed that they would be working with a member of their in-group (i.e., a person that shares the same political affiliation as them) and dyads without bonding goals in which the focal participant believed that they would be working with an out-group member (i.e., an individual who supported the opposite presidential candidate). To measure the strength of participants’ bonding goals, we asked them to respond to nine items (sample items: “To what extent would you be interested in ‘becoming friends with your partner,’ ‘bonding with your partner,’ ‘becoming closer to your partner’”; α = .95; see appendix C for the complete list of items). The survey concluded with demographic questions. As predicted, participants who believed that they would be completing the joint task with an in-group member (M = 4.36, SD = 1.37) indicated having a stronger goal to bond with their partner than those who believed that their partner was an out-group member (M = 3.22, SD = 1.58, F(1, 159) = 23.73, p < .0001, ηp2 = .13). Thus, in the main study we maintained this in- versus out-group dyad composition manipulation of bonding goals, and will refer to in-group dyads as “dyads with bonding goals,” and out-group dyads as “dyads without bonding goals.” Analysis and Results Unwarranted Bonus Opt-Out Decision. We first note that there were significant differences in the likelihood of keeping the unwarranted bonus among the three conditions (χ2 (2) = 5.87, p = .05): 66.2% of the dyads with bonding goals decided to keep the bonus versus 54% of the dyads without bonding goals and 54.4% of the individuals. Furthermore, a logistic regression on participants’ decision to keep the unwarranted bonus (coded as 1 = kept the bonus and 0 = opted out) revealed a significant main effect of experimental condition (Wald χ2 (2) = 5.82, p = .05): both the dyads without bonding goals (b = –.51, exp(b) = .60, Wald χ2(1) = 4.36, p = .04) and the individual decision makers (b = -.49, exp(b) = .61, Wald χ2(1) = 4.73, p = .03) were less likely to retain the unwarranted bonus than the dyads with bonding goals. Post-Decision Bonding. We also examined whether making joint unethical decisions indeed had a positive effect on social bonding. Results revealed that members of the dyads with bonding goals (M = 5.16, SD = 1.26) felt more bonded with each other after the joint decision making than members of the dyads without bonding goals (M = 4.91, SD = 1.41, F(1, 559) = 4.63, p = .03, ηp2 = .01). Furthermore, participants in dyads that jointly decided to keep the unwarranted bonus (M = 5.24, SD = 1.18) felt more bonded with their partners than participants in dyads that were ethical together (M = 4.72, SD = 1.50, F(1, 559) = 20.86, p < .0001, ηp2 = .04). Most importantly, a mediation analysis using the procedure outlined in Iacobucci (2012) for analyzing categorical mediators revealed that the joint unethical decision (whether to keep the unwarranted bonus or not) mediated the relationship between the bonding-goals versus no-bonding-goals dyads and the amount of post-decision bonding (zmediation = 2.33, p = .02), suggesting that the greater post-decision bonding observed in the dyads with bonding goals is explained by their greater joint unethicality relative to the dyads without bonding goals. Alternative Accounts. It is possible that the dyadic context calls to mind examples of joint unethical behavior to a greater extent than does an individual decision-making context; if this is the case, dyad partners may feel it is more normative to behave unethically. Further, it may be that the dyads and individual decision makers simply perceive a given unethical behavior differently—it might be less risky to do in the social context of a dyad, or seen as riskier or less acceptable if undertaken alone. However, the results show no difference in the perceptions of the normative status (p = .59) and riskiness of the unethical behavior (p = .35) across the conditions. Moreover, participants in all three conditions felt equally guilty (p = .84) and proud (p = .35) of the bonus decision they made. All means and standard deviations are displayed in table 2. Table 2 Study 3: Means and Standard Deviations Dyads with bonding goals Dyads without bonding goals Individuals Main effect of condition Felt responsibility 5.38 (.97) 5.41 (1.11) 6.35 (.96) F(2, 760) = 65.44 p < .0001 Perceived riskiness of unethical act 3.01 (2.04) 2.89 (2.02) 3.16 (2.14) p = .35 Perceived normativity of unethical act 70.43 (26.42) 69.79 (26.08) 68.04 (25.13) p = .60 Guilt 1.60 (1.21) 1.63 (1.32) 1.69 (1.34) p = .84 Pride 4.85 (1.90) 5.02 (1.93) 4.77 (1.96) p = .35 Arousal 3.30 (.66) 3.30 (.72) 3.07 (.68) F(2, 757) = 8.00 p < .001 Dyads with bonding goals Dyads without bonding goals Individuals Main effect of condition Felt responsibility 5.38 (.97) 5.41 (1.11) 6.35 (.96) F(2, 760) = 65.44 p < .0001 Perceived riskiness of unethical act 3.01 (2.04) 2.89 (2.02) 3.16 (2.14) p = .35 Perceived normativity of unethical act 70.43 (26.42) 69.79 (26.08) 68.04 (25.13) p = .60 Guilt 1.60 (1.21) 1.63 (1.32) 1.69 (1.34) p = .84 Pride 4.85 (1.90) 5.02 (1.93) 4.77 (1.96) p = .35 Arousal 3.30 (.66) 3.30 (.72) 3.07 (.68) F(2, 757) = 8.00 p < .001 Table 2 Study 3: Means and Standard Deviations Dyads with bonding goals Dyads without bonding goals Individuals Main effect of condition Felt responsibility 5.38 (.97) 5.41 (1.11) 6.35 (.96) F(2, 760) = 65.44 p < .0001 Perceived riskiness of unethical act 3.01 (2.04) 2.89 (2.02) 3.16 (2.14) p = .35 Perceived normativity of unethical act 70.43 (26.42) 69.79 (26.08) 68.04 (25.13) p = .60 Guilt 1.60 (1.21) 1.63 (1.32) 1.69 (1.34) p = .84 Pride 4.85 (1.90) 5.02 (1.93) 4.77 (1.96) p = .35 Arousal 3.30 (.66) 3.30 (.72) 3.07 (.68) F(2, 757) = 8.00 p < .001 Dyads with bonding goals Dyads without bonding goals Individuals Main effect of condition Felt responsibility 5.38 (.97) 5.41 (1.11) 6.35 (.96) F(2, 760) = 65.44 p < .0001 Perceived riskiness of unethical act 3.01 (2.04) 2.89 (2.02) 3.16 (2.14) p = .35 Perceived normativity of unethical act 70.43 (26.42) 69.79 (26.08) 68.04 (25.13) p = .60 Guilt 1.60 (1.21) 1.63 (1.32) 1.69 (1.34) p = .84 Pride 4.85 (1.90) 5.02 (1.93) 4.77 (1.96) p = .35 Arousal 3.30 (.66) 3.30 (.72) 3.07 (.68) F(2, 757) = 8.00 p < .001 We again tested the diffusion of responsibility account. Individual decision makers (M = 6.35, SD = .96) felt more responsible for the bonus decision than the partners in the dyads with bonding goals (M = 5.38, SD = .97, F(1, 760) = 107.17, p < .0001) and dyads without bonding goals (M = 5.41, SD = 1.11, F(1, 760) = 99.61, p < .0001). However, there was no difference in the felt responsibility between the partners in the two dyad types (p = .73), suggesting that diffusion of responsibility is unlikely to explain the differences in the unethicality of the dyads with bonding goals and the dyads without bonding goals. Furthermore, across the three conditions, felt responsibility did not predict the decision to opt out of the bonus or not (p = .92), thus providing additional evidence against the diffusion of responsibility account. Participants in the dyads with bonding goals (M = 3.30, SD = .66) and dyads without bonding goals conditions (M = 3.30, SD = .72) indicated feeling more aroused during the decision making than the individuals (M = 3.07, SD = .68, F(1, 757) = 12.22, p < .001) and F(1, 757) = 13.06, p < .001), respectively. Importantly, though, there was no difference in the arousal between the two dyad types (p = .88), suggesting that arousal cannot explain the differences in their unethicality. Finally, we note that there was no difference in the number of words or characters in the chat scripts of the dyads with bonding goals (Mwords = 79.04, SD = 51.60; Mchars = 393.26, SD = 257.84) and dyads without bonding goals (Mwords = 75.46, SD = 44.27; Mchars = 378.28, SD = 222.31; both p > .53). Discussion In study 3 we used in-group versus out-group dyad partners as a proxy for participants’ desire for bonding. The results provide convergent evidence supporting the role of social bonding goals in driving the dyads’ subethicality relative to individuals: in line with the results of prior studies, dyads in which the decision-making partners believed that they were interacting with an in-group member were more likely to claim an unwarranted bonus than individual decision makers. However, when the partners perceived each other as out-group members, they were as ethical as individuals and significantly more ethical than in-group dyads. Importantly, study 3 also demonstrates that joint ethical violations do lead to social bonding: members of the dyads with bonding goals felt more bonded after joint decision making than members of the dyads without bonding goals, and this was mediated by their decision to act unethically or not, such that the dyads who jointly claimed the unwarranted bonus felt more bonded than the dyads who acted ethically. These results support our proposed process, in that the desire to bond leads to unethical behavior, and that engaging in unethical behaviors does indeed lead to social bonding. This is important, because the desire to bond with others is in itself a healthy impulse—but a strong desire to do so without means aside from ethical decision making can be less than ideal for consumer dyads and firms. Finally, study 3 also ruled out several alternative mechanisms: first, although the dyad partners felt less responsible for the joint decision they made than individuals, decision responsibility did not predict the decision to claim the unwarranted bonus or not. Moreover, there were no differences in felt responsibility between partners in the bonding-goals and no-bonding-goals dyads (despite the demonstrated differences in their joint unethicality), which further underscores the fact that diffusion of responsibility cannot explain the observed results. Second, there were no differences in the perceived normativity or riskiness of the focal unethical behavior, nor in the guilt and pride experienced among the three conditions. Third, even though participants in the bonding-goals and no-bonding-goals dyad conditions indicated feeling more aroused than individuals—possibly due to interacting with another person—there was no difference in the arousal between the two dyad types, suggesting that arousal is not a viable explanation of their different ethicality. GENERAL DISCUSSION A casual glance at today’s headlines quickly demonstrates the prevalence of unethical choices. While much research has focused on what drives individuals to make unethical choices, unethical decisions made in dyads have been largely overlooked. In the present article, we compared the ethical decisions of dyads to those made by individuals. Four experiments conducted with real dyads across a variety of ethical dilemmas demonstrate that nonbonded dyads behave less ethically than individuals. Specifically, the results show that compared to individual decision makers, nonbonded dyads were more likely to cheat on a quiz to increase their chance of receiving a monetary award (study 1), more likely to hide important employment information from a job candidate in a hiring dilemma (study 2A), more likely to falsely report completing their work (study 2B), and more likely to claim unwarranted compensation (study 3). Importantly, three of these experiments used real, consequential ethical decisions and the effects are robust across a variety of ethical domains. We further propose that this effect occurs because ethical violations offer a route to social bonding. Consistent with this theory, the dyads’ subethicality relative to individuals is attenuated (1) if the dyad partners establish rapport prior to the joint decision making (studies 2A and 2B), and (2) in decision-making contexts in which the social bonding goals are less active (i.e., making a decision with an out-group vs. in-group member; study 3). In such cases, the satisfaction of social bonding goals (studies 2A and 2B) or the absence of such goals (study 3) attenuated the dyads’ subethicality, aligning it to that observed in individual decision makers. Last but not least, we also show that joint ethical violations do indeed have positive social bonding consequences (study 3), such that members of the dyads who acted unethically together felt more bonded than members of the dyads who acted ethically. These findings provide additional support for our proposed mechanism in that the desire to bond leads to joint unethical behavior, and that acting unethically together does increase social bonding. Furthermore, across studies we ruled out different alternative mechanisms, such as diffusion of responsibility, perceived normativity and riskiness of the unethical act, as well as guilt, pride, and arousal. Taken together, our work suggests that social bonding can provide a strong motivation for nonbonded dyads to engage in unethical behavior. In such cases, the opportunity to behave unethically in a dyadic decision provides an effective tool for social bonding, thus leading the dyads to “partner in crime” and behave more unethically than individuals. Theoretical Contributions and Practical Implications The research presented here contributes to our understanding of ethical decision making in multiple ways. First, we extend previous work from the individual decision maker to dyads, demonstrating that dyads in which the partners hold active social bonding goals behave less ethically than individuals. Further, we illuminate the underlying mechanism and implicate the role of social bonding goals in driving the subethicality of dyads relative to individuals. Consequently, our work also demonstrates that the motivation for engaging in unethical behaviors may not be merely seeking the economic benefit that the unethical choice provides, but may also include social benefits achieved through joint unethical behaviors. We note that our work differs from prior research on the link between consumer misbehavior and social bonding in multiple ways. First, prior research has examined only individual decisions made in response to others’ behaviors; Mead et al. (2009) demonstrate that social exclusion leads consumers to adjust their spending patterns to those of their interaction partner, purchase an unappealing food item liked by the partner, and try an illegal drug if it increases their chances of creating social connections. Similarly, Lowe and Haws (2014) show that in certain circumstances (i.e., when indulgence does not threaten goal progress), matching the indulgent behavior of someone else leads to social affiliation. Thus, both of these articles looked at sequential individual decisions and their impact on social bonding. Second, they have focused their investigations on other types of decisions, such as spending, food and drug consumption, and time management, all of which are substantially different conceptually from ethical decisions. Thus, our work is the first to examine the joint ethical decisions of pairs of consumers and demonstrate the role of social bonding goals in driving the dyad’s subethicality relative to individuals. Further, we contribute to work arguing for the benefits of friendships in the workplace, such as information sharing, productive conflict, and increased motivation (Berkowitz 1954; Dailey 1977; Evans and Dion, 1991; Shah and Jehn 1993). Our findings reveal the value of social bonds between team members in the workplace and consumption communities, as such bonds should reduce the use of ethical violations as a means for member bonding. Given the recent calls for greater ethical awareness in organizations (Glazer and Rexrode 2015), research that speaks to the why of unethical decision making is crucial. The current work suggests that managers and organizations would be well served to spend time on relationship building before presenting dyads with mild ethical choices; once social bonding has occurred, dyads perform as ethically as individuals. Finally, we contribute to recent work highlighting the effects of relationship dynamics on consumer decisions (Dzhogleva and Lamberton 2014; Etkin 2016; Huang et al. 2015; Simpson et al. 2012), showing that the ethicality of consumer dyads might be driven by the decision-making partners’ goals to establish social bonds with each other. Practically, these findings are important because they highlight that relatively nonbonded dyads, such as new roommates or couples on a first date, might be more prone to committing joint ethical violations as a means for bonding. Future Research Directions While our work offers novel insights into consumers’ unethicality in joint decisions, it is not without limitations, which raise a variety of intriguing questions for future research. First, we examined the dyads’ joint unethicality across various mild, omission-based unethical behaviors. While such minor ethical violations might be perceived as tools for bonding with others, it would be interesting for future research to explore whether higher-stakes or commission-based ethical decisions would lead to the same levels of subethicality among nonbonded dyads. For example, if the dyad’s joint unethical decision is significantly harmful, it may not promote bonding, as it signals “social toxicity” and lack of fitness as a relationship partner. Therefore, such unethical acts might have lower social bonding benefits, resulting in similar ethicality among dyads and individuals. A preliminary study reported in the web appendix supports this prediction, showing that nonbonded dyads are more unethical than individuals only for low-harm behaviors, but are as ethical as individuals for high-harm behaviors. We hope that future research more thoroughly examines the moderating effects of harm level, as this may offer a means to improve ethicality by reframing an unethical behavior as more or less severe. Similarly, if consumers more easily justify engaging in omission-based (vs. commission-based) behavior because the wrongdoing is less explicit during the joint decision making, future research could examine whether the demonstrated effects emerge in commission-based ethical dilemmas. If results do not hold when unethical behavior requires commission, framing decisions in terms of more active choices may also attenuate unethical tendencies in dyads. Future research should also investigate when accountability will emerge in dyads, and potentially lead to superethicality. In studies 2A and 2B we used a validated procedure to create social bonds in some dyads and demonstrated that lab-induced bonds eliminate the subethicality of nonbonded dyads relative to individuals. However, we speculate that these bonds were probably not strong enough (as in married couples, for example) to activate accountability goals, which might have allowed us to observe dyads’ superethicality. There are two lines of research that support this speculation. First, accountability offers a means of relationship maintenance (Agnew et al. 1998; Campbell et al. 2001; Fincham and Beach 1999; Gonazaga et al. 2001; Menzies-Toman and Lydon 2005). Therefore, accountability is most likely triggered in the context of a relationship that one hopes to maintain over future time—a situation that was unlikely to exist in our lab-created or online dyads. Second, in strongly bonded dyads, the partners perceive themselves as a part of a single collective unit (Agnew et al. 1998; Baldwin 1992; Planalp 1987) and develop a couple-oriented identity (cognitive interdependence; Agnew et al. 1998). Therefore, in strongly bonded dyads, the actions of the dyad have strong implications for the partners’ moral self-definition, and vice versa. By contrast, in nonbonded dyads, individuals can extract themselves from the dyad’s morality more easily. Therefore, assuming that individuals want to believe they are ethical (Mazar et al. 2008), the partners in strongly bonded dyads are more likely to keep one another accountable to higher ethical standards than they would maintain in their individual decisions, thus resulting in dyadic superethicality relative to individual decision makers. To see if more strongly bonded dyads might show accountability, we conducted a preliminary study (n = 282, 44.8% males, Mage = 35.6 years) in which married individuals (n = 209) rated their relationship closeness and the importance of bonding and accountability goals during the last six months, as well as indicated the extent to which they and their spouse had engaged together in a set of consumer fraudulent behaviors (e.g., consuming food items while in store without paying) during the same period. Single participants reported the extent to which they had engaged in the same set of fraudulent behaviors alone. Among married individuals relationship closeness was a marginally significant negative predictor of the extent to which the couple had engaged in joint consumer fraud (b = –.11, t(202) = –1.92, p = .06). Further, relative goal focus (bonding vs. accountability) mediated the relationship between the couples’ closeness and their fraud (indirect effect: b = –.02, SE = .01, 95% CI: –.046, –.004; direct effect: b = –.09, SE = .06, p = .12). Furthermore, strongly bonded, close couples engaged in joint consumer fraudulent behaviors to a significantly lower extent than single individuals (t(202) = –1.87, p = .06). Though we hesitate to overstate their conclusiveness, these results suggest that that as the social bonds between dyad members strengthen, dyads may exhibit a greater tendency for superethicality relative to individuals due to the greater prominence of accountability goals. Future research may explore this kind of relationship further. In addition, we recognize that there are many other routes to achieving social bonding; our work does not argue that unethical behaviors are the only way in which dyads can satisfy a bonding goal. It is plausible that other types of joint risky behaviors could similarly be used by consumers as means for social bonding: past research has already shown that in individual decisions, consumers are willing to match the risky consumption tendencies of their partners when they feel socially excluded (Mead et al. 2009). Therefore, future research should examine whether our findings generalize to other types of joint risk taking. Future research could also more explicitly capture the goals activated by the dyadic context. Our results show that the dyad’s subethicality relative to individuals is attenuated when the partners’ social bonding goals are less active—when they have to make a decision with an out-group member with whom they do not want to affiliate or because the bonding goals have been satisfied via an alternative means. We also find that joint unethical decisions lead to bonding. Together, this implies that the dyadic context activated bonding goals. However, we did not directly measure bonding goals or other goals that might be activated; it is likely that there is some variance in the strength of activation of bonding goals or competing objectives. Therefore, attempts to provide more direct evidence of the underlying mechanism and other potential process effects may be worthwhile. Finally, future researchers could look more closely inside the dyadic decision-making process, analyzing the partners’ discussion, weighing of the options, and actual social process. Such work would examine how the ethical decision was reached, and whether individual-level characteristics, such as power, status, moral identity (Aquino and Reed 2002), or self-control (Tangney, Baumeister, and Boone 2004), may influence the path to these joint choices. For instance, individuals higher in trait self-control are more likely to compromise because they can withhold their own desires for the sake of preserving relationship harmony (Dzhogleva and Lamberton 2014; Finkel and Campbell 2001). As a result, dyads comprising a high- and low-trait-self-control member could perform less ethically (i.e., giving in to the low-self-control individual’s impulse) than a pair of two high-self-control individuals. Future research exploring the individual traits of the dyad members and how those characteristics influence the dyad’s decision would further illuminate the processes underlying joint ethical decisions. DATA COLLECTION INFORMATION The data for study 1 were collected from undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh in spring 2015. The data for study 2A were collected from undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh in summer and fall 2014. The data for study 2B were collected from undergraduate students at Boston College in spring 2017. The data for study 3 were collected on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in fall and winter 2016–2017. The data for the study reported in the web appendix were collected from undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh in fall 2016. The data collection in all studies was conducted by research assistants working under the supervision of the three authors. The analyses in all studies were performed by the first author under the supervision of the other two authors. This research is supported by research grants awarded to the first author from the Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh and the Office of the Provost at Boston College. The authors sincerely thank the editor, associate editor, and three reviewers for their invaluable input and guidance during the review process. Supplementary materials are included in a web appendix accompanying the online version of this article. APPENDIX A STUDIES 2A AND 2B: MATERIALS PANEL A: Relationship Closeness Induction Task (RCIT; Sedikides et al., 1999; used in the bonded dyads condition in studies 2A and 2B): We implemented the RCIT procedure as described in Sedikides et al. (1999). Specifically, the partners in each dyad first engaged in a conversation with each other using three lists of questions and then answered additional questions regarding their conversation individually. All details and instructions are provided below: COMMUNICATION TASK You and the other participant will receive three identical lists of questions. These three lists of questions will be on three separate pages. We would like you to engage in as natural a conversation as possible using these questions. In other words, one participant should ask the other participant the first question on the list. The other participant should answer and then ask the same question of the first partner. There will be a time limit on each of the three lists of questions. You should try to finish all the questions within the time limit. Please check off each question you finish on the provided sheet. You may spend 1 minute on the first list of questions, 3 minutes on the second list, and 5 minutes on the third list. The experimenter will keep time and tell you when to go on the next list of questions. When this occurs, finish the question you are on and then go on to the next list. LIST 1 (time allotted: 1 minute in both studies 2A and 2B) What is your first name? How old are you? Where are you from? What year are you at University X? What do you think you might major in? Why? What made you come to University X? What is your favorite class at University X? Why? LIST 2 (time allotted: 3 minutes in study 2A/2 minutes in study 2B) What are your hobbies? What would you like to do after graduating from University X? What would be the perfect lifestyle for you? What is something you have always wanted to do but probably never will be able to do? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? What is one strange thing that has happened to you since you’ve been at University X? What is one embarrassing thing that has happened to you since arriving at University X? What is one thing happening in your life that makes you stressed out? If you could change anything that happened to you in high school, what would that be? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be? Do you miss your family? What is one habit you’d like to break? LIST 3 (time allotted: 5 minutes in study 2A/4 minutes in study 2B) If you could have one wish granted, what would that be? Is it difficult or easy for you to meet people? Why? Describe the last time you felt lonely. What is one emotional experience you’ve had with a good friend? What is one of your biggest fears? What is your most frightening early memory? What is your happiest early childhood memory? What is one thing about yourself that most people would consider surprising? What is one recent accomplishment that you are proud of? Tell me one thing about yourself that most people who already know you don’t know. Please answer the following questions individually. Please indicate how many questions from each list you asked your partner: # of questions asked from List 1: ______ # of questions asked from List 2: ______ # of questions asked from List 3: ______ Do you think you had adequate privacy in your conversation? (Yes/No) Did you feel relatively comfortable in this conversational setting? (Yes/No) Do you consider conversation a good way to get to know somebody? (Yes/No) Do you often engage in conversations similar to the one you just engaged in? (Yes/No) Do you think the majority of your friends will ask questions similar to those asked in this conversation? (Yes/No) Do you think your friends consider conversation the most important way to get to know somebody? (Yes/No) How close do you feel to the participant with whom you are working on this task? (1 = “Not At All Close,” 9 = “Very Close”) How similar do you feel to the participant with whom you are working on this task? (1 = “Not At All Similar,” 9 = “Very Similar”) How much do you like the participant with whom you are working on this task? (1 = “Not At All,” 9 = “Very Much”) In the future, to what extent do you feel you could be friends with the participant with whom you are working on this task? (1 = “Not At All,” 9 = “Very Much”) Manipulation Check We averaged participants’ responses to the last four questions (questions 8, 9, 10, and 11; α = .81) to create an index of the relationship closeness between the two partners in each dyad and used it as a manipulation check. Results revealed that the RCIT indeed induced a relatively high level of closeness between the dyad partners (Study 2A: M = 6.01, SD = 1.29 vs. scale midpoint 5, t(80) = 7.20, p < .0001; Study 2B: M = 5.85, SD = 1.04 vs. scale midpoint 5, t(107) = 8.58, p < .0001). PANEL B: Control Writing Task (used in the nonbonded dyads condition in study 2A): WRITING TASK In this first task, we are interested in examining the writing styles of college students. As such, we will ask you to write a short paragraph describing the room in which you are currently. Please be thoughtful as you write and describe the room with as many details as possible. You have four minutes to complete this task and the lab administrator will let you know when the time is up. PANEL C: Salary Negotiation Scenario (used in all conditions in study 2A): For the next part of the study, imagine that you are working as a team in a salary negotiation with a job candidate looking to join the company you are working at. The president of the company has instructed you to negotiate as LOW a salary as possible for this individual. Below, you will be given several pieces of information to keep in mind as you enter this negotiation scenario: The job the candidate is applying for will be eliminated in 6 months due to an organizational restructuring. The candidate DOES NOT have this information. The candidate strongly desires to remain in the same job for at least 2 years and will accept a lower starting salary in return for a verbal commitment of job stability. There are no other qualiﬁed candidates being considered at the present time. The candidate is unaware of the lack of other qualiﬁed candidates. A failure to ﬁll the position quickly with a qualiﬁed applicant would negatively impact your yearly performance reviews. Furthermore, if you are able to negotiate a salary below a certain amount, you will receive an end-of-year bonus. Please discuss this information together and consider how you would approach this situation. Then please answer the following questions. Remember that you have to make the decisions together. APPENDIX B STUDY 2B: CHARITY ORGANIZATION INFORMATION APPENDIX C LIST OF MANIPULATION-CHECK ITEMS USED IN THE PRETEST TO STUDY 3 To what extent would you be interested in: Becoming friends with your partner Trying to relate to your partner Bonding with your partner Behaving in ways in which your partner will like you Making joint decisions that would help you and your partner feel closer to each other Ensuring that your partner likes you Becoming closer to your partner Sharing a personal connection with your partner Finding out more about your partner NOTE.—All items were measured on a seven-point scale where 1 = “Not At All” and 7 = “Very Much.” Footnotes 1 The odds ratio is the ratio of the probability of cheating over the probability of not cheating. 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Journal of Consumer Research – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 23, 2017
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