Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 133–145

Satisfying Individual Desires or Moral Standards? Preferential Treatment and Group Members’ Self-Worth, Affect, and Behavior


    • Organizational Behavior Subject AreaLondon Business School, Regent’s Park
  • Christian Tröster
    • Department of Management & EconomicsKühne Logistics University
  • Karl Aquino
    • OBHR Division, Sauder School of BusinessUniversity of British Columbia
  • Madan Pillutla
    • Organizational Behavior Subject AreaLondon Business School, Regent’s Park
  • David De Cremer
    • Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University Rotterdam

DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1287-5

Cite this article as:
Thau, S., Tröster, C., Aquino, K. et al. J Bus Ethics (2013) 113: 133. doi:10.1007/s10551-012-1287-5


We investigate how social comparison processes in leader treatment quality impact group members’ self-worth, affect, and behavior. Evidences from the field and the laboratory suggest that employees who are treated kinder and more considerate than their fellow group members experience more self-worth and positive affect. Moreover, the greater positive self-implications of preferentially treated group members motivate them more strongly to comply with norms and to engage in tasks that benefit the group. These findings suggest that leaders face an ethical trade-off between satisfying the moral standard of treating everybody equally well and satisfying individual group members’ desire to be treated better than others.


Group value modelLeadershipNorm complianceSocial comparisonStatusAffect

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012