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Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Surprising Way Crowd Size Affects Our Tendency to Cheat

 Not unexpected, depending on further contexts, more implications here

The Surprising Way Crowd Size Affects Our Tendency to Cheat

Organizations would be wise to understand the psychology behind this phenomenon.

By Celia Chui, Maryam Kouchaki, Francesca Gino  ...  Insight.kellogg

To prevent unethical behavior, think small—at least when it comes to the size of the group you’re trying to influence.

That’s the lesson from new research by Maryam Kouchaki, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. Across several experiments, Kouchaki and her coauthors—Celia Chui of HEC Montreal and Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School—found that people cheat at higher rates in larger groups.

Why? The researchers found an intriguing self-fulfilling prophecy at work: people expect there to be higher numbers of cheaters within larger groups. This perception, in turn, increases the sense that cheating is common and therefore acceptable.

The study illustrates the importance of context and social norms in determining whether or not we behave ethically. After all, we don’t magically transform from saints in groups of five to sinners in groups of 100. Rather, we unconsciously cue off other people and what we expect their behavior to be.

“When you think your behavior is normative,” Kouchaki explains, “then it seems more defensible. Questionable behavior seems more justifiable when you think more people are doing it.”

Larger Groups, More Cheating

The researchers began their investigation by recruiting 88 participants to complete an in-person study. Participants were randomly assigned to a room with either a small group of 5 people or a large group of 25 people.

Participants were told they could earn money by unscrambling 10-word jumbles in three minutes, $1 for each one they solved. But there was a catch: they had to complete the puzzles in sequence to receive payment—that is, if they solved the first and third, but not the second, they would only be paid $1 for the first. They would also receive an additional $10 bonus if their performance was in the top 20 percent of the room.

Participants didn’t have to report solutions to the word jumbles—only which ones they solved, which presented a tempting opportunity to lie. And unbeknownst to them, the seventh word jumble was unsolvable, allowing the researchers to determine conclusively whose pants were on fire.

The results were clear: in the small groups, 27 percent of participants reported solving the unsolvable word jumble. In the large group, that figure rose to 54 percent.  .... '   

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