An Integrated and Empirically Tested Social Psychological Model of Whistleblowing

Author: Farid Anvari

Anvari, Farid, 2018 An Integrated and Empirically Tested Social Psychological Model of Whistleblowing, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Whistleblowing is an important mechanism for helping to detect and correct wrongdoing within social groups and organisations (Brown, Mazurski, & Olsen, 2008; Dyck, Morse, & Zingales, 2010; Lavena, 2014; Miceli & Near, 1988; Miethe, 1999). Given that it involves the disclosure of ingroup wrongdoing to an external agent, it is important to develop a theoretical perspective of whistleblowing that accounts for the role of group memberships and processes (Dozier & Miceli, 1985; Near & Miceli, 1987). This suggests that a social psychological approach may advance understanding in this respect. And yet little work has explored whistleblowing’s psychological motivations (Waytz, Dungan, & Young, 2013).

Using the social identity approach (after Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, 1985), I propose a social psychological conceptualisation of whistleblowing that explicitly distinguishes it from intragroup dissent, addressing a literature that has tended to conflate these two phenomena. Specifically, whereas whistleblowing involves speaking out against ingroup wrongdoing to a person/group outside of the offending ingroup, intragroup dissent involves speaking out directly to the wrongdoer(s). I thus put forth a model of the whistleblowing process that speaks to the role of social identities and group memberships, stating the situations and contexts in which intragroup dissent and/or whistleblowing will be more likely. I propose that strength of identification with a superordinate group (i.e., a social identity) whose values have been violated by a subgroup’s wrongdoing will predict how motivated an individual will be to report it to a relevant authority. The findings show that this relationship is likely to be mediated by a perceived sense of responsibility to act to correct the wrongdoing.

A corollary aspect of the social psychological model of whistleblowing speaks to power processes that are likely to shape whether an individual speaks up in dissent and/or engages in whistleblowing. I first elaborate on this aspect of the model, challenging the implied dominant view of whistleblowers as powerless individuals (e.g., Callahan & Dworkin, 1994; Near & Miceli, 1985) by delineating between two types of perceived social power—intragroup and vicarious intergroup power. After clearly defining and distinguishing these two types of perceived power, I identify the contextual variables that contribute to them and the antecedents of dissent and whistleblowing that are likely to operate through them. I then outline how I developed and validated scales to measure these two distinct types of power. The evidence supports the distinction between the two psychological constructs of power, intragroup and vicarious intergroup power. Once motivated to act against ingroup wrongdoing, intragroup power predicts the likelihood that one will speak out in dissent, and vicarious intergroup power predicts the likelihood that one will blow the whistle.

Overall, the empirical findings provide the first line of support for my social psychological model of whistleblowing, suggesting that social identities and power processes play critical roles in the whistleblowing decision.

Keywords: whistleblowing, dissent, social identity, ingroup wrongdoing, moral transgression, employee voice

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Professor Michael Wenzel