Contagion or restitution? When bad apples can motivate ethical behavior

Francesca Gino*, Jun Gu, Chen-Bo Zhong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


When there is a "bad apple" in the group, are we more likely to follow the example or compensate for their sins? Three experiments showed that whether a group member's unethical actions lead to contagion or restitution depends on the presence of out-group observers. In Experiment 1, participants were more likely to compensate for the transgression of an in-group member than an out-group member when there were out-group observers. Experiment 2 varied the presence of out-group observers and showed that such compensatory behaviors occur only in the presence of out-group members. We suggest that the presence of out-group observers trigger a self-categorization process that induces guilt in individuals for their group members' transgressions. Indeed, associated guilt mediated the relationship between in-group member's unethical behavior and participants' compensatory behavior (Experiment 3). These results suggest that norms implied by others' behavior and group categorization are important determinants of ethical behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1299-1302
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Dishonesty
  • Group categorization
  • Identity
  • Social norms
  • Unethical behavior


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