Cognitive foundations of impartial punitive decision making in organizations: attribution and abstraction

Van Houwelingen, G., Van Dijke, M. ORCID: 0000-0001-9974-5050, Van Hiel, A. and De Cremer, D., 2020. Cognitive foundations of impartial punitive decision making in organizations: attribution and abstraction. Journal of Organizational Behavior. ISSN 0894-3796

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Partial decision making about disciplinary responses to misbehavior is generally considered unfair and undermines the effectiveness of punishment. Nonetheless, organizational actors often struggle to remain impartial in situations that call for punishment. Impartiality appears specifically hard to obtain when some element of the transgression reflects badly upon the punisher themselves, for instance, when in the past the punisher has benefited from the misbehavior, even if just derivatively. In this paper, we argue that in such cases, punishers tend to defensively attribute causes of the transgression to the circumstances in order to protect their own self‐image, thus leading them to relatively lenient punishments. However, we also suggest that psychological impartiality can be obtained through cognitive abstraction. An abstract understanding (high‐level construal) of the punitive situation puts the focus squarely on the gist of the situation and makes circumstantial details less likely to be cognitively available. This hinders defensive circumstantial attribution. We show in a field study and an experiment that partiality in making decisions about punishments occurs under conditions of low‐level (i.e., concrete) construal, whereas impartiality is facilitated by high‐level (i.e., abstract) construal.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Creators: Van Houwelingen, G., Van Dijke, M., Van Hiel, A. and De Cremer, D.
Publisher: Wiley
Date: 19 August 2020
ISSN: 0894-3796
Rights: © 2020 The Authors. Journal of Organizational Behavior published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Business School
Record created by: Jill Tomkinson
Date Added: 21 Oct 2020 09:46
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:15

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