Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
Good behavior can therefore lead to bad behavior, but could the opposite also be the case?That
bad behavior leads to good behavior? In order to study this, Francesca Gino and colleagues
came up with the following experiment. The participants, students of the University of
Pittsburgh, divided into groups of 8 to 14, were required to perform 20 tasks in which (as in
the experiment described in chapter 10) they must ind two numbers on each page which
added up to 10 precisely. They were given ive minutes to do this. They were then allowed to
determine their own score and take 50 cents out of an envelope placed on the table for them.
The participants then put their answer sheets through a shredder, so that no one could ind out
whether they had cheated. One group served as a control; these participants were required
to hand in their answers, so that the researchers could ind out what the actual score was.
But here is the crux. The researchers had placed an assistant in some groups. This participant,
dressed in a white T-shirt, made it known very conspicuously that he was inished after one
minute. He said that he had answered all the questions right and could take the 10 dollars
home. For the other participants there was only one possible interpretation: this was a cheat.
What effect would this have on the behavior of the other participants? Would they now also
In the control group, where no cheating was possible, 7 questions were answered correctly,
so the participants received 3.5 dollars. In the groups without an assistant, the participants
on average claimed to have answered 12 questions correctly. The average cheat therefore
lied about 5 questions. In the groups with an assistant, the participants on average claimed
to have answered 15 questions correctly: more than double the score of the group which
could not cheat. This illustrates the effect of a rotten apple on the behavior in the group. The
notion that this person belonged in the group was indeed the relevant point. What happened
when the assistant, instead of wearing a white T-shirt, wore a T-shirt with the logo of Carnegie
Mellon University, the arch rival of the University of Pittsburgh? The participants now claimed
to have answered 8 questions correctly, considerably less than in the situation in which the
cheat was seen as a student from the same university, and even considerably less than when
there was no cheat in the group!
Gino and colleagues’ experiment shows that when the rotten apple is seen as belonging to
their group it ‘infects’ the other apples. When the rotten apple is seen as a rival, an outsider, the
cheating decreases, as if it has had a cleansing effect. People distance themselves from the
22. Fare dodgers and black sheep: when model behavior backires