My Friend Is Embarrassing Me: Exploring the Guilty by Association Effect

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Abstract

It is contended that people (known here as associates) erroneously believe that their social standing suffers when people with whom they are associated (offenders) act in socially inappropriate ways. Accordingly, the anticipated evaluations of associates and observers were contrasted in 6 studies. Study 1 participants read a second-person scenario from the perspective of an associate or an observer. Associates anticipated that observers would give them less positive ratings when the offender picked his or her nose (versus control), but observers' ratings were unaffected. In Study 2, associates erroneously anticipated that observers' ratings of them would vary systematically as a function of whether or not they were introduced as friends of an offender who had/had not committed academic misconduct. In Study 3, anticipated ratings of associates were negatively affected by the actions of an offender whom they did not know previously. Study 4 showed that perspective-taking is the key to attenuating the effect and reducing feelings of embarrassment. The last 2 studies clarified the role of physical proximity and felt closeness. Consistent with results of a scenario study (Study 5), Study 6 participants' anticipated ratings were negatively affected by a combination of increased physical proximity and felt closeness.

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