2004 June 24 Thursday
Top People In Hierarchies Set The Tone

Bullies in positions of power set the tone and their underlings begin to copy their behavior. (same article here and here)

Ambition, experts say, is the bully's most insidious deputy. Dr. Leigh Thompson, an organizational psychologist at Northwestern University, and Cameron P. Anderson, of the New York University business school, are studying the effects of varying management styles on the behavior of small groups.

In one simulation, business students gather in teams of three, acting out the parts of company managers meeting to divvy up resources. The students are randomly assigned to one of three roles, the top manager of a large company, a middle manager and a lower-ranking manager.

After the negotiations begin, the researchers find, the heavyweights quickly dominate and, with regular meetings, they also transform the behavior of the No. 2 managers.

"If the person in charge is high energy, aggressive, mean, the classic bully type,'' Dr. Thompson said, "then over time, that's the way the No. 2 person begins to act."

She added that this holds true no matter how low-key and compassionate the No. 2 person looks on personality tests outside the simulation. Working to please and impress a more powerful figure, the second-tier managers are temporarily transformed into carbon copies of the alpha dogs, and in the simulation, they tend to corner the money and cut out the lowest-level players.

The article goes on to cite data collected by researchers from real world business environments that confirm this pattern.

People who are not the object of bullying often develop rationalizations for why another person really deserved it.

"They do this by wondering whether maybe the person deserved the treatment, that he or she has been annoying, or lazy, they did something to earn it," Dr. Duffy said.

The brutal behavior goes unchallenged, and the target feels a sudden chill of isolation that is all too real. By doing nothing, even people who abhor the bullying become complicit in the behavior and find themselves supplying reasons to justify it.

When people at the bottom of a hierarchy are misbehaving it is, more likely than not, a sign that there is a problem higher up in the hierarchy. Prison guards in Abu Ghraib out of control? They probably didn't go down that road on their own.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 June 24 04:03 PM  Human Nature

Invisible Scientist said at June 24, 2004 10:44 PM:

You are absolutely correct..

But isn't it also true that the leaders are somehow elected, even if they are coming
to power by means of a military coup? The old saying "The nations of the world are
governed as they deserve" has a lot of truth to it. Somehow, the "psychological
infrastructure of the region" chooses the local leaders. Even though Germany and Russia
were very multicultural and huge countries to say that Hitler or Stalin represented
the national charactheristics, we can still say that Germany and Russia were precisely
the countries were the authority of Stalin or Hitler would be accepted, while this is
NOT the case for the USA, since the psychological infrastructure of the US is different.

Adam said at June 26, 2004 1:48 PM:

"When people at the bottom of a hierarchy are misbehaving it is, more likely than not, a sign that there is a problem higher up in the hierarchy. Prison guards in Abu Ghraib out of control? They probably didn't go down that road on their own."

That is quite a logical leap.

Correlation is not causition.

You are usually to insightful to fall for that category of logical fallacy. I'm dissapointed.

What examples did "higher management" set to encourage Graner and England to have sex in front of prisoners?

Plus, even if their senior officers did behave illegally and thus set the example, they putzes caught on camera had the obligation to report the illegal activity and refuse and illegal order.

This isn't third grade. Members of the military are responsible for their own behavior!

Randall Parker said at June 26, 2004 2:20 PM:


No, correlation is not causation. I said "probably". But the history of higher-ups giving orders with plausible deniability stretches back so far that I tend to look real hard when the lowerlings claim they were getting encouraged to do things that they are now being blamed for.

Do you think those guards are lying when they claim there were interrogators who were encouraging them to abuse the prisoners? I figure there is a better than 50:50 chance they are telling the truth. In my mind the chances became a lot better than 50:50 when some of their officers decided to claim their 5th amendment rights to stay silent. Why do you suppose they are doing that? This is hobbling the ability of the guards to defend themselves.

Officers and top civilian leaders are responsible for their own behavior too, in spite of their methods of passing down orders that leave them with barely plausible deniability.

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