J. EDWARD RUSSO: Our next speaker is Simone Tang, who has come to us from Duke only a year ago. She's in the organizational behavior area. We're going from accounting to economics to organization behavior. This is BEDR. Just make sure your head is able to spin.
So Simone, welcome to Cornell, having been here a year, and welcome to BEDR.
SIMONE TANG: Thank you. I'm very happy to be here. So thank you again, J. and BEDR for inviting me to present. I am interested in morality and ethics. So that is, how do we think about what's right and wrong; how do we judge a transgressor when they do something wrong, whether that transgressor is a person or an organization?
And instead of giving an overview of my work I thought it would be pretty fun to do a different perspective and go into a deep dive into one of my research projects. And this one is one with Christy Koval, Rick Larrick, and Lasana Harris.
This might look like Hurricane Dorian, but this is actually from two years ago, Hurricane Maria. And when it struck Puerto Rico, FEMA needed 30 million meals delivered to Puerto Rico. And what did they do? Well, they decided to engage Tiffany Brown, an entrepreneur. And what's interesting about Tiffany Brown is that she is the sole owner-operator, sole employee, of her company, Tribute Contracting.
But Tiffany and Tribute actually created a second problem. By the time the meals were due, only 50,000 had been delivered. That's 1%.
And if you think about Tiffany Brown and Tribute Contracting, you can either think about the organization as Tiffany Brown, the owner-operator, the sole employee of the organization, as the member frame. Or you can think about the organization from the organization frame-- Tribute Contracting that is made up of this one, sole worker and employee, Tiffany Brown.
This seems like a slight distinction, right? I just flipped these words around. But actually, what I'm going to show you today is that simply flipping these words around can influence how people think about the same target.
And my research question in this paper is, do we judge the transgressor differently, depending on whether the transgressor is framed as the organization or as its equivalent members? Now, we know from research in psychology that framing-- how information is presented-- has an effect on how people subsequently judge the information, how subsequently people will react to it.
So for example, in policymaking, when you frame the same policy as the number of lives saved, people are usually more in favor of that than if you talk about the same policy in terms of lives lost. And in victim blaming-- how much do we blame a victim when something bad happens to them-- when you use the passive voice-- "The victim was attacked by the assailant"-- people actually blame the victim more than when you use the active voice-- "The assailant attacked the victim."
And in the domain of mind perception-- so how do we attribute living minds to things that are not living-- researchers have found that framing the organization as "an accounting company comprised of 15 people" makes it seem like it is more of a living mind than-- makes it seem like it has less of a living mind than "15 people who compose an accounting company."
But what about closer to our research question? How do we judge organizations versus individuals? And what research has found, generally, is that people judge individuals less harshly than organizations-- or organizations are judged more harshly than individuals. And so, for example, an organization will be perceived as being more likely to abuse rights, for example, or be more likely to engage in unethical actions than the CEO.
But these research projects-- I actually compare one individual to the whole organization-- so comparing one CEO, for example, to the whole company. And I think we can immediately recognize that there might be some confounds, right? So for example, we are comparing the different targets. We're comparing one person, the CEO, to the entire company. And with that, that means also that there are differences in the number of people present in each condition, the amount of resources might differ, and the organizational structure or the social relationships embedded in the organization might also differ.
And so people have suggested, for example, that this result-- that organizations are judged more harshly than individuals-- is simply because people don't like organizations. They don't like big groups. And research supports that. So people are less likely to trust big groups, and for the same transgression, people think that it is worse when it's committed by a group than when it's committed by an individual.
And this is related to my research, but my research question is actually quite different. Right? It's about how do we judge the same organization depending on how it's framed-- depending on whether you think of it as the organization that is made up of its members or the members that happen to make up the organization, which I call the organization frame and the members frame, respectively.
And so this is the model that we proposed-- that when people think of an organization in the organization frame, they're actually more likely to attribute control to the entity, to the target, and subsequently attribute more responsibility and blame to the target. So what might be some research that supports this reasoning?
So organization frames might be perceived to have more control because a review suggested that people believe organizations have a strong capability of control, that people believe that organizations, when they commit wrongdoing, they actually intended to do so, for example. And also, in our daily lives, we see that organizations are acquiring more power-- more so than individuals. They have control over how we interact with each other in social media, they have control over our personal, private information, and they can also even influence government decisions and election results.
And in turn, control increases perceived responsibility. So researchers in the past have found that aspects related to control-- so for example, whether you intend to do something, whether you caused a bad outcome, and whether you had the foresight to know that a bad outcome was going to occur increased responsibility. And in contrast, when you have a lack of control, people actually attribute less responsibility and blame to the perpetrator.
And so we are going to test this model in a series of studies. And because of the time limit, I'm only going to be presenting two today, but I'm happy to talk about them later as well. And in general, the study flow is that we manipulate the frame.
So we give participants the same information about the organization. We just frame either the organization using the organization frame-- that it's composed of its members-- or we frame it as the members which make up the organization. And subsequently, participants will read about a transgression and then they will make a moral judgment. They will judge the responsibility and blame and control that the target had.
And so what does this actually look like? So in the first study, we showed participants an organizational structure, and we told participants, oh, this is All Express. The organization All Express is a delivery business in Ohio. These are all the people who work there. And this is the organization frame. The organization is made salient.
And in the members frame, instead, we say, these are all the people who work in All Express, a delivery business in Ohio. And so in this members frame, the members are made salient. And we also ran a manipulation check to show that people actually understood that these people are all the people who work there; not simply employees. And people did correctly identify all of these workers as making up the organization.
AUDIENCE: So can I ask, what was the manipulation check question?
SIMONE TANG: Oh. So that was--
SIMONE TANG: So we showed a different group of participants this same chart, and then we said, please select the-- and we placed them either in the organization manipulation or the members frame manipulation. And in both cases, we asked participants, can you please check the boxes that contain the names of the people in this organization? And we made it clear-- we said, this is not a trick question. We simply want to know that you understand it. And out of 155 participants, only five participants miscorrectly identified. So people did understand.
So after manipulating the frame, participants read that the organization transgressed. So All Express was overcharging their customers' credit cards. And then we asked participants to tell us, well, to what extent do you think All Express or the people who work there had control over the outcome or had responsibility over it?
And so first of all, let me orient you to this graph. So on the y-axis, we have increasing amount of perceived control responsibility; and on the x-axis, we have perceived control here and responsibility and blameworthiness here. And if you recall, what I suggested was that organizations would be attributed more control and responsibility than in the members frame.
And that is what we find. That when you frame the same organization using the organization-- making the organization itself salient-- All Express, made up of all these people-- participants actually judged this organization frame as having more control than the members frame.
And we see a similar pattern here for responsibility. People actually [INAUDIBLE] more responsibility to the organization frame compared to the members frame. And of course, now you might be thinking, ah, there are so many other possibilities. There are so many other confounds. What about if you dehumanize them? Do you dehumanize the organization frame more?
Is it more entitative, which means are they more close-knit. Do you like organizations less? Are organizations perceived more competent? They have more resources. Well, we asked participants these questions as well, and even when we control for them, these results still held. Please?
AUDIENCE: I'm sorry. You probably said this. But when they were answering these questions, they were answering about control over what and responsibility for what in particular?
SIMONE TANG: Oh, over the outcome-- for overcharging the credit cards.
SIMONE TANG: Yeah. That's right. And when I run some fancy statistics using mediation, we find that the effect of the frame on responsibility is mediated by control. So when you frame the same entity, the same transgressor, as an organization, people perceive it to be more in control and subsequently more likely to blame it and attribute responsibility to it.
And in study 2, we thought, OK, well, if the reasoning is that the members frame increases perceptions of control, then what we can do to really dig deep into this process is to manipulate control. Right? And so we decided, OK, what if we tell people that this entity, this transgressor, had control over the outcome? If we do that, then the effect should disappear. Right?
And so that's what we did. And we did the study in a different context. So I'm in the Hotel School, so we decided to use a restaurant context. So in the organizational frame this time, we said Bon Vivant is catering organization made up solely of three owner-operator caterers, Pauline, Trevor, and Yan. And in the members frame, we instead said, Pauline, Trevor, and Yan are caterers who are the sole owner-operators who make up the caterer organization Bon Vivant.
So participants subsequently read that there was food poisoning. And then, we manipulated whether the organization-- or, I'm sorry, the entity had explicit control or not. And so when there was no further information, that means that there was no explicit control.
And in contrast, when they were told that explicit control, persons were told that the target had complete control over the quality of the food; they were supposed to ask for certification, but they didn't do so to save money. And subsequently, participants made a judgment on responsibility and blame.
And so when there's no control information-- this is similar to study 1, where we just present participants with a member frame or the organization frame. And we find the same results-- that the organization frame is judged as more responsible than the members frame. But when we tell participants that the target had explicit control, then the effect goes away, providing further support for our model-- for our hypothesis.
And so now, you might have further questions. Right? So OK, this all seems sort of self-report. Does it have an actual effect on behavior?
Well, actually, it does. So in the organization frame, people are more likely to sign a petition to punish the target. Well, then, you might ask, OK, well, the organizations you showed me were all for-profit. What about nonprofits? Actually, it's the same. People do judge nonprofits just as harshly if they are in the organization frame versus the members frame.
And then you might say, well, no, I judge them the same amount. So how do you explain me? Well, then, one possibility is that there are individual differences. So if you have a high belief in free will, if you believe that individuals have control over their fate, then you are more likely to show a weaker effect.
So in sum, what we find here is that people judge organizations more harshly when it's framed as the organization versus as its members. And of course, there are many more interesting questions that we can ask about this.
So what happens when you have legal entities? Do we think the decisions made by the nine members-- the nine Supreme Court justices-- do we perceive those decisions differently than decisions made by the Supreme Court? Or with white nationalism, do we perceive the same actions differently when we call them white nationalists versus the neo-Nazi party?
I don't know the answer these questions. I would love to know. But for now, I'll leave you with this final thought. Thank you.
J. EDWARD RUSSO: You won't be able to leave so quickly. You have to answer questions.
SIMONE TANG: Oh. OK. Please?
AUDIENCE: That's very interesting.
SIMONE TANG: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: What happens when you flip it to something positive? From a couple of the things you said, I could imagine you making a prediction one way, and I could imagine you making a prediction the opposite way.
SIMONE TANG: Yeah. So we ran some slides, as well, looking at what might happen if it's something positive. So you're suggesting what if the organizational entity does something good, right? Instead of something bad?
SIMONE TANG: And what we found is that there's actually no difference. And so we sort of think that it might be because, first of all, people expect organizations to do good. They are supposed to accomplish a certain goal. And so maybe that's why that there's no difference when we have a good outcome instead of a bad one.
AUDIENCE: What about something that's ambiguously good or bad? So if you describe a company that's made outsized profits. That's a good thing. They're very profitable. But they're taking market share away from others. Is it more likely to be thought of as a bad thing when the organization does it rather than the entrepreneur does it?
SIMONE TANG: That's very interesting, when it's ambiguous. I think-- if I draw different strands of research-- so there is some research by Joshua Knobe, for example, showing that people naturally have a tendency to want to blame, to see-- and by [INAUDIBLE]-- that people naturally want to see morality in things. They naturally want to blame when they suspect that something bad is going on.
I would think that if there is something ambiguous, it could be impacted by people's experience. It could be impacted by what's going on right now. So for example, if you talk about overcharging credit cards, with Wells Fargo, people might be more likely to say, OK, well, that is definitely intentional. That is a bad thing. But if that didn't happen, people might think of it as a mistake; that they didn't intend to do so; that if they returned the money, then it would be fine.
But yeah, I think that's an interesting question. What would happen if it were ambiguous? Or even if it were a question of competence? So if you simply did something wrong, but it's not because you had malintentions, but you simply were incompetent; that you didn't have the resources, or you weren't smart enough to accomplish a certain task.
Yeah. That's very interesting. Think you for raising that. Please?
AUDIENCE: Did you ever do any studies that were organized more like your opening example, where there is either an organization or the one employee that makes up the organization? The reason I ask the question is because if you think about people making these judgments using the general mechanisms of person perception, then you essentially like nine people versus one entity person. So it kind of looks like a diffusion of responsibility type of finding.
SIMONE TANG: Yeah, so your question is-- so I'm hearing two questions. The first one is, did I run a one-person organization study; and the second one is, is it possible that perceived diffusion of responsibility is going on in here?
So I will say that we did run a one-person study that I didn't present in here. In the actual paper itself, we decided to include organizations that were at least three people because-- and when we look at the small businesses statistics on the US Small Business Administration website, 99% of small businesses are less than 20 people. And so we decided for face validity and for just people's general idea of what an organization is to use at least three people. But with the one-person organization, we did find the same finding-- that people do trust organization more harshly than the members frame.
Could it be perceived diffusion of responsibility? That's a really good question. It is possible. I hope that even-- I mean, I imagine that it could have an effect, but I hope that even when we control for that, we might still see this effect surface. Please?
AUDIENCE: Did you try this with real companies, like Volkswagen's Dieselgate, where you had a CEO and two engineers who were [INAUDIBLE]?
SIMONE TANG: So we did use a real event with Foster Farms. Foster Farms, in 2015, had a salmonella outbreak. They simply didn't clean their equipment well enough. And when we use that, we still see the same results, whether or not people remember or know about this event.
Specifically to Volkswagen, we try not to use Volkswagen because we didn't want to taint participants' judgments or ratings simply because they've heard-- simply because it's such a big scandal. They might have already have preconceived notions of how harshly they want to judge Volkswagen, even without the subtle manipulation of framing. Please?
AUDIENCE: Could the effect have been driven by people's reluctance to put moral blame on other people? Because the one-person organization, it just seems that in the first study, you put like Jen and Kim and all these personal people's name, but I wonder if the effect would disappear if you just named them like agent A to agent D. It's just having that-- calling people by the organizational-- some institutional-- some position.
SIMONE TANG: Yeah. So first of all, let me clarify, first of all, that in both conditions, we mentioned the names. So we used different names and different-- and not just Anglican names as well. So for example, in study 2, you saw Pauline, Trevor, and Yan. And in both conditions, we would mention the names so that people understand that it's an organization that's made up of people. And so that might answer part of your question, in that it's not necessarily that people don't want to assign blame to others. In fact, moral psychology shows that people are very willing to assign blame to human beings.
But your second question about, oh, what if you just call them agent B, C, or D-- so there is some research on the victim identifiability effect, where people are less empathetic towards statistical victims-- like, oh, 80% of people suffer from hunger-- than they are towards identifiable victims, like Tommy is suffering from hunger. And so if I were to make a leap from that, I would think that there might be an effect in that the difference might be smaller because you don't have names. But the key part here is that I would say, "Bon Vivant, made up of agent A, B, C, D" versus "agent A, B, C, D, which makes up Bon Vivant." I think--
J. EDWARD RUSSO: Thank you very much. We have more questions that can be done later.
SIMONE TANG: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
SIMONE TANG: [INAUDIBLE]
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Simone Tang, assistant professor of organizational behavior, presents current research findings regarding behavioral economics and human decision-making Sept. 3, 2019 as part of the BEDR Workshop Showcase. Sponsored by the Behavioral Economics and Decision Research Center at Cornell University.