Allegations of Sexual Misconduct: A View from the Observation Deck of Power Distance Belief

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We seek to understand how third-party observers respond to allegations of sexual transgressions, whether their responses vary and if so why, how they determine perpetrator sanctions, who is more forgiving of them, and what is the psychological mechanism underlying this preference. We draw on one dimension of Hofstede's (Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1991) theory of cultural orientations—power distance belief, and one dimension of Haidt's (Psychological Review, 108: 814–834, 2001) work on moral reasoning—moral decoupling. Results from three studies on recent real-life cases—those pertaining to Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and Peter Martins—reveal interesting, consistent, and dramatic findings pertaining to these research questions. Specifically, compared to observers who endorse a low power distance belief (PDB), high PDB observers selectively suspend judgments of culpability and express higher evaluations of the alleged perpetrators, are significantly more forgiving of them, convey a lower preference for naming and shaming them, and consider the alleged transgressions as less serious. These outcomes are predicated on the psychological mechanism of moral decoupling. Both high and low PDB respondents decouple the perpetrators’ competence and morality. However, high PDB observers gauge the actions of the perpetrators by emphasizing competence, while low PDB observers gauge their actions by emphasizing morality.

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Journal of Business Ethics



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