With increasing importance of knowledge, ideas more and more pose a competitive advantage for workers who have ideas over those who don’t. Based on your ideas you can either excel in your career, increase your annual bonus or lose your job if you do not have any. Being caught up in a competitive struggle with your colleagues you do things you would not normally do – like stealing a co-worker's idea to use it to your own means. This book aims to provide you with further insights into the pressures on today's knowledge worker in an “up-or-out” working environment. Those insights are based on a study performed at the London School of Economics & Political Science: In a laboratory experiment, participants were first subliminally primed to feel either more competitive or cooperative. They were then asked to make decisions in a hypothetical scenario in which they could steal and take credit for a co-worker's idea to improve their own position. The results reveal some interesting perspectives about how people tend to value intellectual property – and how little the barriers are to deceive your dear colleagues.
Chapter 2.3, Perceived ethical costs:
The issue with claiming intellectual property rights for an idea was initially mentioned in the
introduction. One could assume that taking credit for someone else’s idea is stealing and
therefore violates legal or societal norms, i.e. causes ethical costs to the individual and society as a whole. Still, stealing always entails by definition a violation of another person’s rights of ownership in a fundamental way (Green 2007). With ownership and ideas being not a clearcut relationship, taking credit for someone else’s idea allows a lot of subjectivity in perceiving ethical costs associated with that action, especially if one takes into account the culturally and historically conditioned mental model of ethical behaviour of an individual (Chen/Choi 2005). Individuals might simply fail to recognize taking credit for someone else’s idea as a moral issue (Glass/Wood 1996). Indeed, studies have shown that ethical decision-making is a highly complex process that is subject to a variety of personal dispositions. Various studies show that ethical reasoning is influenced e.g. by age, work experience, gender and cultural heritage (Chiu/Spindel 2009).
However, other authors mention that the decision-making process is influenced by an individual’s “contextual rationality” (Guy 1990: 34), i.e. the generation and selection of feasible alternatives is embedded in the context. In fact, Bekkers (2004) expects in a study about the stability of individual social value orientations, which also entail personal competitive and cooperative dispositions, that situational cues like primes have been responsible for the low stability of social value orientations in the study’s experiment.
Guy (1990) describes the ethical decision-making process in four stages. In the first stage, the problem and the desired outcomes in all relevant dimensions are determined. Stage two involves an evaluation which values might be affected in the process. In step three, an
individual identifies all feasible alternatives considering all dimensions of the problem.
Additionally, it is evaluated which values would be maximised or minimised by choosing a
respective alternative. In the final step, the individual chooses the alternative, which maximizes the value that is the most important to the individual and still solves the problem. The whole process is highly subjective and the weighting to what extent which values are affected by an alternative depends largely on the individual.
Assuming that situational cues influence the individual’s ethical decision-making, those who are exposed to competition primes might consider pro-social values (e.g. mutual trust in one’s team) as less important than pro-self values (e.g. success in one’s career) and vice versa for participants in a cooperative priming condition. For competitively primed individuals the decision to take credit for someone else’s idea would incur a minor, if any, norm violation, i.e. negligible ethical costs. As Sims (2003) notes that people who face competition may focus only on winning and accept behaving unethically as necessary mean toward one’s own end.
Considering that individuals in a cooperative environment are likely to try to maintain a high level of collaboration – as mentioned above – taking credit for someone else’s idea would pose a severe norm violation. This would cause the individual to perceive higher ethical costs despite the inability to cope with one’s job demands.
Hypothesis 3: When unable to cope with their job demands, individuals in the competitive
priming condition perceive less ethical costs and individuals in the cooperative priming condition perceive more ethical costs in taking credit for someone else’s idea than individuals in the neutral condition.
Due to the complexity of the ethical decision-making process, the present study also explores why an individual would think that taking credit for someone else’s idea is the right or not the right thing to do and also what that individual thinks what someone else in the same situation would consider as the right or wrong thing to do. Therefore, participants in the present study were asked four open-ended questions. These will be explained in more detail in the methodology section of this study.
2.4, Perception of others’ mindset:
As outlined above in the section about subliminal priming, there is reason to assume that
priming effects alter an individual’s perception about how other people think. Therefore, this study also seeks to confirm that individuals in a competitive or cooperative priming condition would perceive another person in the same situation – without any further information about this person – to have a similar competitive or cooperative mindset. Theoretically and empirically, this is widely supported by authors about social cognition (e.g. Tversky/Kahneman 1974). The basic thought is that once a certain concept becomes activated, i.e. more accessible, it is more likely that an individual uses this concept in the assessment of others (Srull/Wyer 1979). Tversky and Kahneman named this a “judgemental heuristic” (1974: 1127) or shortcut that allows an individual to reduce information overload or – in the case of an ambiguous person or situation – information scarcity before rendering a judgment about another person’s mindset or attitude. The individual uses the recently activated concept because it comes more easily to his or her mind.
Multiple studies have examined this phenomenon. In an experiment by Higgins et al. (1997) subjects were asked to describe another person in a hypothetical situation subsequently to priming activities. The researchers found that the subjects in the priming condition used words to describe the person’s personality traits that were similar to the words that have been used to prime the subjects. In another study, Hertel and Kerr (2001) found that priming the concept loyalty made their participants more likely to believe that the other participants in the same group would expect loyalty as well. Notably, the target which individuals perceive to have a similar mindset do not have to be the person or group the individuals are competing against or collaborating with (Stapel/Koomen 2005).
Based on these thoughts, the present study expects:
Hypothesis 4: Individuals in the competitive priming condition perceive others’ mindsets to
be more competitive and individuals in the cooperative priming condition perceive
others’ mindsets to be more cooperative than individuals in the neutral condition do.
Benedikt Link (né Dunst) was born in 1985 in Rosenheim. He studied economics and social sciences at the University of Oldenburg. In 2011, he passed his Master's degree in organisational psychology at the London School of Economics & Political Science, where he also discovered his interest in the „dark side“ of the business world. As a forensic consultant and fraud examiner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he continues to explore the daily urges and pressures of white-collar workers which drive them into commiting fraud and other stupidities.
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- Artikel-Nr.: SW9783954896622
- Artikelnummer SW9783954896622
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- Verlag Anchor Academic Publishing
- Seitenzahl 57
- Veröffentlichung 01.02.2014
- ISBN 9783954896622