Fewer but better: Proportionate size of the group affects evaluation of transgressive leaders

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Abstract

A group may be badly affected if its leader transgresses important rules. Nonetheless, an emerging body of evidence suggests that in intergroup contexts, group members apply a double standard when judging ingroup leaders – They respond less punitively to transgressions by their leader than by non-leaders. In this article, two experiments investigated how proportionate ingroup size affects reactions to transgressive ingroup leaders. We demonstrate that ingroup leaders from larger, but not smaller, groups benefit from the double standard. The experiments testing the effects of two different types of transgressions (nepotistic favouritism and corruption, respectively) show that transgressive leaders from larger groups are evaluated more positively than both comparable non-leaders and leaders from smaller groups. In contrast, transgressive leaders from smaller groups are evaluated similarly to comparable transgressive non-leaders. Experiment 2 investigated a potential explanation for this phenomenon. Faced with a transgressive leader, members of a smaller group report greater embarrassment than do members of larger groups in relation to the leaders' actions. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.

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