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IACM 2023

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Keeping Up Appearances: Status Loss Concern and The Propensity To Engage In Unethical Behavior

Status-holders tend to engage in prosocial behaviors that contribute to collective well-being. However, we propose that high-status individuals are also likely to engage in unethical behavior due to heightened chronic concern regarding status loss, even in the absence of any threat to their status. We test our model through three studies, two online experiments and one in-person negotiation. In our first two studies, we find that high-status individuals are more likely to engage in unethical behavior due to concerns about status loss compared to those for whom status is not salient and that concern about status loss (versus maintenance and gain) mediates the relationship between high status and unethical behavior. In our third study, we differentiate the actions of high-status individuals from high power individuals and find that when one’s actions might be detectable, high-status individuals are less likely to engage in unethical behavior compared to high-power individuals.

Emma Zhao
University of Virginia
United States

Nicholas Hays
Michigan State University
United States

Sophie Leroy
University of Washington - Bothell
United States

Gabe Licht
St Norbet College
United States


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