The power of the majority: Social conformity in sexual harassment punishment selection

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Abstract In his famous social conformity experiments in the 1950's, Asch found 75% of participants conformed to confederates' incorrect answers at least once, with an overall conformity rate of 32%, revealing that humans are highly likely to conform to group behavior even when that behavior is clearly wrong. The purpose of this study was to determine if the social conformity effect generalized to scenarios involving sexual harassment punishment selections in the workplace. Participants read various workplace sexual harassment scenarios and then witnessed four confederates chose one of three types of punishments (verbal warning, 1-week suspension, or termination). The confederates stated aloud punishments that were either appropriate (i.e., similar to normative data) or inappropriate (i.e., deviating either too harshly or leniently to normative data). Participants then provided their punishments selection aloud, and confidentially rated their decision confidence. We found an overall conformity rate of 46%, as 82.67% conformed at least once to harsh or lenient punishment selections. Participants who conformed to incorrect punishment selections exhibited lower levels of decision confidence, indicating that conformity may have been due more to social normative influence. The current results imply the social responses of others (i.e., coworkers, supervisors, or HR) can impact responses to sexual harassment. The results imply that social influence may be a significant contributing factor in mislabeling, misreporting, or inappropriately punishing sexual harassment in some organizations. CAPTION(S): Appendix. Byline: Leilani B. Goodmon, David J. Gavin, Medhini Urs, Sierra N. Akus
Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES::Social sciences::Psychology, Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES::Social sciences::Social work
Goodmon, L. B., Gavin, D. J., Ursini, & Akus, S. N. (2020). The power of the majority: Social conformity in sexual harassment punishment selection. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50(8), 441.