Tribalism can corrupt: Why people denounce or protect immoral group members

Ashwini Ashokkumar, Meredith Galaif, William B. Swann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When ingroup members behave immorally, what determines whether other group members denounce vs. protect them? We asked if concerns for group reputation might determine how people respond to the moral indiscretions of group members. In four studies, participants read about an immoral act committed by a member of their political party. The act was either publicly known to people outside of the participant's political party (i.e., “public transgression”) or hidden from public view (i.e., “private transgression”). In the public transgression condition, participants endorsed having their political party openly denounce the transgressor in an apparent effort to prevent the party's reputation from being tarnished by association. In the private transgression condition, however, they were reluctant to publicly report the transgressive party member, presumably to prevent reputational loss. Feelings of responsibility for the group arising from either identity fusion with the party or being experimentally assigned to occupy a position of responsibility for the party amplified these effects. Strongly fused participants were even willing to contemplate extreme, unethical actions aimed at protecting party reputation (e.g. tampering with incriminating evidence), regardless of the publicness of the transgression. We conclude that feelings of responsibility for the group and reputational considerations determine whether people denounce or protect ingroup transgressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103874
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Group reputation
  • Group responsibility
  • Identity fusion
  • Ingroup moral transgressions
  • Moral reputation
  • Moral violations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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