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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  1. Allan, S., & Gilbert, P. (1995). A social comparison scale: Psychometric properties and relationship to psychopathology. Personality and Individual Differences, 19, 293–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Aquino, K., Lewis, M. U., & Bradfield, M. (1999). Justice constructs, negative affectivity, and employee deviance: A proposed model and empirical test. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 20, 1073–1091.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Aquino, K., & Reed, A, II (2002). The self-importance of moral identity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1423–1440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Argyle, M., & Dean, J. (1965). Eye-contact, distance and affiliation. Sociometry, 3, 289–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American Psychologist, 44, 1175–1184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bies, R. J. (2001). Interactional (in)justice: The sacred and the profane. In J. Greenberg & R. Cropanzano (Eds.), Advances in organizational justice (pp. 89–118). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Blader, S. L., & Tyler, T. R. (2009). Testing and extending the group engagement model: Linkages between social identity, procedural justice, economic outcomes and extra role behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 445–464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Colquitt, J. A. (2001). On the dimensionality of organizational justice: A construct validation of a measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 386–400.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Crocker, J., & Luthanen, R. (1990). Collective self-esteem and ingroup bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 60–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Daniels, D., & Plomin, R. (1985). Differential experience of siblings in the same family. Developmental Psychology, 21, 747–760.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. De Cremer, D. (2004). The influence of accuracy as a function of leader’s bias: The role of trustworthiness in the psychology of procedural justice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 293–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. De Cremer, D., & Tyler, T. R. (2005). Procedural justice, sense of self, and cooperation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 151–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fiske, S. T. (2004). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Folger, R., & Cropanzano, R. (1998). Organizational justice and human resource management. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Frank, R. (1985). Choosing the right pond: Human behavior and the quest for status. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Goethals, G. R. (1986). Social comparison theory: Psychology from the lost and found. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12, 261–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hepper, E. G., & Sedikides, C. (2010). Self-enhancing feedback. In R. Sutton, M. Hornsey, & K. Douglas (Eds.), Feedback: The handbook of praise, criticism, and advice. Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing Group.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kant, I. (1785). Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. Berlin: Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

  21. Kelley, H. H. (1952). The two functions of reference groups. In G. E. Swanson, T. M. Newcomb, & E. E. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development: Moral stages and the idea of justice: Volume 1. Essays on moral development. New York: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  23. MacKinnon, D. P., & Fairchild, A. J. (2009). Current directions in mediation analysis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 16–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Messick, D., & Sentis, K. (1979). Fairness and preference. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15, 418–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Moorman, R. H. (1991). Relationship between organizational justice and organizational citizenship behaviors: Do fairness perceptions influence employee citizenship? Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 845–855.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Mussweiler, T. (2003). Comparison processes in social judgment: Mechanisms and consequences. Psychological Review, 110, 472–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Pierce, J. L., Gardner, D. G., Cummings, L. L., & Dunham, R. B. (1989). Organizational-based self esteem: Construct definition and measurement. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 622–648.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422–445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Simon, B., & Stürmer, S. (2003). Respect for group members: Intragroup determinants of collective identification and group-serving behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 183–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Smith, H. J., Tyler, T. R., Huo, Y. J., Ortiz, D. J., & Lind, E. A. (1998). The self-relevant implications of the group-value model: Group membership, self-worth, and treatment quality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 470–493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Stevens, L. E., & Fiske, S. T. (1995). Motivation and cognition in social life: A social survival perspective. Social Cognition, 13, 189–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Thau, S., Aquino, K., & Wittek, R. (2007). An extension of uncertainty management theory to the self: The relationship between justice, social comparison orientation, and antisocial work behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 250–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Tyler, T. R. (1989). The psychology of procedural justice: A test of the group value model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 830–838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Tyler, T. R. (1994). Psychological models of the justice motive. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 850–863.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Tyler, T. R. (1999). Why people cooperate with organizations: An identity-based perspective. In B. Staw & R. Sutton (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior (pp. 201–246). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Tyler, T. R., & Blader, S. L. (2002). Autonomous vs. comparative status: Must we be better than others to feel good about ourselves? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89, 813–838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Tyler, T. R., & Blader, S. L. (2003). The group engagement model: Procedural justice, social identity, and cooperative behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 349–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Tyler, T. R., & Lind, E. A. (1992). A relational model of authority in groups. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 115–191). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Vlastos, G. (1962). Justice and equality. In R. Brandt (Ed.), Social justice (pp. 31–72). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stefan Thau.

Additional information

Stefan Thau, Christian Tröster contributed equally to this paper. This research was supported by a London Business School RAMD grant to the first author.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Thau, S., Tröster, C., Aquino, K. et al. Satisfying Individual Desires or Moral Standards? Preferential Treatment and Group Members’ Self-Worth, Affect, and Behavior. J Bus Ethics 113, 133–145 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1287-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Group value model
  • Leadership
  • Norm compliance
  • Social comparison
  • Status
  • Affect