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Whistleblowing Study Examines Fairness vs. Loyalty

Individuals primed with a writing task on fairness were much more likely to blow the whistle on wrongdoing than those who wrote about loyalty, according to the results of a series of studies to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.  

The results were summarized in a New York Times article by the three researchers who conducted the studies. In the studies, those who wrote about previously reporting wrong doing used words related to “fairness” and “justice” 10 times more often than those who had not reported unethical behavior. Those who had not blown the whistle used words related to “loyalty” twice as often.

In a subsequent study, the researchers were able to increase whistleblowing among the participants by having them write a short essay about the importance of fairness before asking them whether they would report a sample incident of unethical behavior.

The article concludes:

This does not mean that a five-minute writing task will cause government contractors to leak confidential information. But our studies suggest that if, for instance, you want to encourage whistle-blowing, you might emphasize fairness in mission statements, codes of ethics, honor codes or even ad campaigns. And to sway those who prize loyalty at all costs, you could reframe whistle-blowing, as many have done in discussing Mr. Snowden’s case, as an act of “larger loyalty” to the greater good. In this way, our moral values need not conflict.

Read more about the study in The New York Times.

By: Andre Francisco
Online Producer, POGO

andre francisco Andre Francisco is the Online Producer for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Authors: Andre Francisco

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