Dirty Hands Make Dirty Leaders? (study)

Florien Cramwinckel Msc (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) researches how people respond to the moral behavior of others. As part of this remit, an experiment was devised in which 78 participants demonstrated how dirtiness versus cleanliness might influence moral behavior in leader–subordinate relationships :-

“They were asked touch, smell, and evaluate a dirty (fake poop) or clean (hygienic cleansing wipe) product and answer several questions about this product. These questions were how ‘‘handy,’’ ‘‘pretty,’’ ‘‘functional,’’ ‘‘nice,’’ ‘‘clean,’’ ‘‘dirty,’’ ‘‘useless,’’ ‘‘weird,’’ ‘‘funny,’’ and ‘‘realistic’’ they thought this product was (1 = not at all, 7 = completely). They also answered to what extent they would like to have this product, if they thought this product smelled nice, if they thought this product felt clean, if they would buy this product in a store and if they felt dirty after touching this product (1 = not at all, 7 = completely).”

Subsequent evaluation of the experimental results showed, amongst other things that :-

“ […] subtle cues such as bodily sensations can shape moral decision-making and behavior in leader–subordinate relationships, but selfinterest, as a core characteristic of interdependence, can override the influence of such cues on the leader’s moral behavior.”

See: Dirty Hands Make Dirty Leaders?! The Effects of Touching Dirty Objects on Rewarding Unethical Subordinates as a Function of a Leader’s Self-Interest. Journal of Business Ethics, Volume 115, Issue 1, pp 93-100,

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