Research Shows To Stop Bad Behaviour, Display A Virtuous Quote

Written by Faizan Patankar

Going through a February edition of Harvard Business Review magazine, I came across an interesting research (p34-35) by Sreedhari Desai, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Professor Desai was studying whether can you really insulate yourself from wrongdoing by advertising your values? Or will people just think you’re being holier than thou?

According to a study carried out by Prof. Desai,

If people had decided to do the unethical things, they are far less likely to try to involve someone who displayed a quote on morals than to approach other team members.

The study explains the methodology of the research. A group of researchers and subjects were mixed together. The subjects were asked to spread lies through a group of people (unknown to them, the people were researchers). First, the subjects were asked to spread lies through email communication. The research found,

  • if you have a quote (in email signature) perceived as moral then you are likely to be approached to do something unethical
  • if you had a neutral quote or no quotes then the subjects approached these people to do the unethical thing

My first feeling was, how is this possible. And email in a controlled experiment couldn’t be the magic bullet of stopping bad behaviour. However the study goes on to explain the other experiments carried out. It included creating “moral” and neutral avatars.

The researchers also studied subjects in India, and found the following:

“analysis of employees and managers in India. We asked the bosses if they’d noticed anything religious about their subordinates, like vermilion dots on their foreheads or pictures of Hindu gods or quotes from the Koran or the Bible in their cubicles. We know from previous research that people associate these religious symbols with morality. We also asked the subordinates if they’d gotten a request to do something unethical in the past six months. Controlling for job satisfaction, performance, and the quality of work relationships, we still found that people who wore or displayed religious symbols were less likely to be asked to do something shady.”

It’s a good piece of research and very interesting to me. Luckily the article is available online on HBR site. Visit this page to read the full interview with Prof. Desai.

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About the author

Faizan Patankar

I started Career Geek Blog in 2011 to share my experience in job-hunting. I now focus on careers industry and blogging is just a tool to share that info. Love hacking careers. During the day I focus on my hobby - Engineering.