Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
the researchers observed whether the participants secretly used the answers, instead of
doing the calculations themselves. Before the participants took the test, the researchers also
did something else. They used an established method to imprint an idea on the participants (a
process known as priming in the literature), in this case a conviction regarding free will. Some
of the students were required to read an article stating that science refutes the notion of free
will and that the illusion of free will is a product of the biochemical make-up of the brain. Other
participants did not receive this reading material. In reading the article the irst group was
more inclined to believe that free will does not exist.
The results were clear. Those with a weaker conviction regarding free will (and therefore the
extent to which they could determine their own behavior and future) were more inclined to
cheat than those whose convictions were not inluenced.The irst group cheated approximately
45 percent more than the second group. If people see themselves as responsible, they will be
more inclined to take responsibility and behave responsibly. If people can hide behind other
factors, such as the idea that their will is preprogrammed and their behavior is predestined,
they are more likely to behave dishonestly. In a second experiment it became apparent that
the participants primed beforehand with the idea that people have free will were less inclined
to steal money.
The research by Vohs and Schooler demonstrates not only that self-image determines
behavior, but also the ease with which self-image, and subsequently behavior, can be
inluenced. Research shows that if we are primed to think of a library we talk more quietly, if
we think of old age we walk more slowly, and if we think of professors we become cleverer.
The activation of particular images automatically prompts associated behaviors. More on this
in the following chapters.
So we not only shape ourselves according to the mould made for us by others, but also
that which we make for ourselves. It is therefore important to examine one’s self-image.
Whether we see ourselves as playthings (heteronomous) or as players (autonomous) makes
a difference to our behavior. If we see ourselves as heteronomous, we are more likely to
succumb to pressure and temptation than if we see ourselves as autonomous. The same
applies to organizations: employees who see themselves as a product of their environment
bend with the wind and are unable to show any backbone. This then paves the way for
6. Self-image and behavior: the Galatea effect