Reaching the top and avoiding the bottom: How ranking motivates unethical intentions and behavior

Vriend, T., Jordan, J. & Janssen, O., Nov-2016, In : Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 137, p. 142-155 14 p.

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  • Reaching the top and avoiding the bottom How ranking motivates

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Across six studies we explore when, why, and how an individual's rank position affects their unethical intentions and behavior. We first demonstrate that competing to attain top ranks leads to more unethical intentions (Study 1) and behaviors (Study 2) than competing to attain intermediate or avoid bottom ranks - even when competing in ranks close to top and bottom ranks (Study 3). We then demonstrate that adding additional extrinsic value to top and bottom ranks (via rewards and punishments) increases unethical intentions for bottom ranks (Study 4), such that competing to attain top and avoid bottom ranks elicits more unethical intentions (Studies 4 and 6) and unethical behaviors (Study 5) than competing to attain intermediate ranks. Finally, we demonstrate that elevated perceptions of power and increases in moral rationalizations mediate these effects for top and bottom ranks respectively (Study 6). We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings. (C) 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-155
Number of pages14
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2016


  • Ranking, Unidirectional drive upward, Intrinsic value, Extrinsic value, Unethical behavior, Unethical intentions, Power, Moral rationalizations, MORAL DISENGAGEMENT, RISK-TAKING, POWER, SELF, COMPETITION, PERSPECTIVE, MECHANISMS, PSYCHOLOGY, PUNISHMENT, DISHONESTY

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