CHESTNUT HILL, Mass, June 19, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- When individuals make joint decisions, they tend to be less ethical than they would have been if they made the same decision alone, according to a new study by researchers from Boston College and the University of Pittsburgh.

When respondents in one experiment had the opportunity to fraudulently increase their number of tickets in a raffle, 73 percent did so when they were deciding with a partner, compared to just 54 percent of those deciding alone, the team reported in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“This bad behavior is driven by a good motive,” says lead author Boston College Assistant Professor of Marketing Hristina Nikolova. “We find that unethical behavior allows us to bond with others, and people do indeed act on this belief that being ‘partners in crime’ facilitates bonding. Our innate drive to connect leads us to make less ethical decisions when paired with others.”

In another experiment, Nikolova and University of Pittsburgh researchers Cait Lamberton and Nicole Verrochi Coleman paired study participants in a virtual chat room to watch a video. Some participants were told that they were matched with a compatible person, while others were paired with someone viewed as incompatible.

Among the matched pairs, 66 percent reported a non-existent video malfunction to claim a $1 bonus payment. Only 54 percent of mismatched pairs and 54 percent of a control group of individuals claimed the bonus.

The report’s findings highlight the ethical dilemmas millions of people face as they make everyday decisions when they enter new social circles.

For instance, about 2 million students enter college every fall, where they live in close proximity to strangers and immediately face a number of joint ethical decisions, such as whether or not cheat on a class assignment.

Similarly, more than 65 percent of the single Americans using online dating services face different ethical dilemmas on their first dates.

The researchers suggest ethical decision making can be safeguarded through friendly interactions or removing the pressure to connect with someone in order to make a decision.

“If you want to be ethical, find someone you otherwise might not seek out as a friend,” says co-author Lamberton. “You’ll be able to keep one another’s people-pleasing tendencies in check.”

Ed Hayward
Boston College