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Effect of Self-Accountability on Self-Regulatory Behaviour: A Quasi-ExperimentAmit Dhiman1 • Arindam Sen2 • Priyank Bhardwaj3Received: 7 August 2015 / Accepted: 10 December 2015 / Published online: 24 December 2015? Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015Abstract An individual’s accountability to oneself leadsto self-regulatory behaviour. A field experiment affordedan opportunity to test this relation, given that externalaccountability conditions were absent. A single group pre-test/post-test design was used to test the hypothesis. Agroup of full-time resident management students, n & 550, take four meals during the day in the institute mess. As apart of the experiment, food wastage in the form of left-overs on the plates of subjects was measured. As a pre-test,the measurement occurred at two levels. Subjects could seehow much they are adding to the total waste by looking at aweighing scale placed under a waste basket, and they couldalso see the total waste data for each of the four meals forthe day and a day earlier displayed at a prominent place.After 105 days, the weighing scale under the basket wasremoved, and as a post-test measurement, the total wastedata for the four meals were noted down for another72 days. A manipulation test indicated that the experimenthas had the desired effect of invoking self-accountability insubjects during the pre-test phase, and diluting it during thepost-test phase. Time series analysis of pre-test and post-test data indicated that the wastage data decreased in thepre-test phase. However, the post-test waste data showedan increase over a period of time. The results indicate thataccountability conditions like social norms invoke self-accountability cognition leading to self-regulatory beha-viours in individuals.Keywords Internal accountability ? Quasi-experiment ? Self-accountability ? Self-regulation ? Deontological viewIntroductionAccountability to Whom: Others and/or SelfThe decisions and actions people take affect the interests ofothers at social and individual levels. Decision makers areanswerable to people who are affected by their actions anddecisions. This answerability is termed as the decisionmaker’s accountability and is a universal feature of anydecision environment (Tetlock 1985). Frink and Klimoski(1998) defined accountability as ‘‘perceived need to justifyor defend a decision or action to some audience(s) whichhas potential reward and sanctions power, and where suchrewards and sanctions are perceived as contingent onaccountability conditions’’ (p. 9). Thus decision makersjustify their decisions and actions to the ‘audience’ whichevaluates them against certain standards and expectations.These standards are determined by formal rules, or infor-mal norms and values related to specific decisions oractions. While formal rules guide an individual’s actionsand decisions in formal situations, it is impossible to framerules for every conceivable situation even in a relativelyclosed social system like an organization. For the majorityof everyday situations in which individuals find them-selves, certain unwritten norms, morals, or values form thestandards. Decision maker feels accountable because the& Amit Dhiman Sensenarindam@hotmail.comPriyank Bhardwajbhardwaj.priyank@gmail.com1 Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Kolkata, India2 HSBC, Bengaluru, India3 PWC, Mumbai, India123J Bus Ethics (2018) 148:79–97‘audience’ controls certain rewards and sanctions for one-self based on the above evaluation. These rewards andsanctions can take tangible and intangible forms such asstatus, image, group-membership, and money. Tetlock(1985) identified the following three motives for people totake cognizance of accountability: to protect and enhanceone’s social image, and to secure control of desirableresources. These motives are often complementary andmutually reinforcing.For a given action and associated consequences, peopleare answerable to multiple ‘audiences’ constituting a webof accountabilities. Typically, at the work place, a decisionmaker is answerable to superiors, subordinates and peers;in the family to the spouse, parents and children; and in thesociety at large to neighbours and social institutions. Thisset consists only of the external ‘audience’, but the decisionmaker is answerable to ‘self’or the internal ‘audience’ aswell (Schlenker and Weigold 1989). In every situation,internal and external accountabilities are at work. Differentstakeholders have different stakes in a given situation andoften these stakes congruent. In order to meet account-ability conditions because of these stakeholders, decisionmakers face a web of accountability forces often pullingthem in multiple and opposing directions. These multipleforces are determined by structural, social, interpersonal,and ethical contingencies embedded into the decisionmaking situation. Thus decision makers choose that actionwhich fulfils most salient and strong accountability con-dition (Frink and Klimoski 1998).While research on accountability in the disciplines ofmanagement and psychology is scant, research on internalaccountability or self-accountability is almost non-existent.This research studies self-accountability and its influenceon an individual’s behaviour in the absence of account-ability to an external audience.Past Research on AccountabilityFrink and Klimoski (1998) found that the search foraccountability literature in management and psychologyresulted in fewer than fifty references. Lerner and Tetlock(1999) were the first ones to comprehensively reviewaccountability literature across different fields. They notedthat in recent times accountability has been studied exten-sively in other fields like health, education, politics, but notextensively in psychology and management. Further, mostof the studies in psychology have been laboratory studieswhich have limitations in terms of generalizability. In orderto advance accountability research, there is a need to con-duct more field studies.Empirical research has shown both the positive andnegative effects of accountability on people’s decisionquality and actions. Lab studies prove that it reducesjudgment biases such as primacy effects (Tetlock 1983),reduces overconfidence in personality prediction (Tetlockand Kim 1987), reduces sunk cost effects (Simonson andNye 1992) and leads to more accurate judgments anddecisions (Ashton 1992; Brtek and Motowidlo 2002; Meroand Motowidlo 1995). On the negative side, it can inflatesunk cost if the decision maker is already committed to adecision (Tetlock et al. 1989), increases stereotyping(Gordon et al. 1988) and impression management (Ferriset al. 1997), shifts decisions towards undesirable prefer-ences of strong constituencies (Adelberg and Batson 1978)and forces the decision maker to even consider irrelevantinformation compromising the decision quality (Tetlocket al. 1989). But the extant research has focussed on theeffect of external accountability conditions while ignoringits internal counterpart, accountability to oneself.Self-accountabilityAs with external accountability, the decision makers’ self-accountability influences their actions and decisions. Self-accountability can be defined as the need to justify one’sactions and decisions to oneself in order to confirm orenhance a self-identity or image shaped by strongly heldbeliefs and values. It has also been defined simply as a‘‘desire to live up to a salient, internally held self-standard’’(Peloza et al. 2013, p 104). It leads to the individual’s self-regulatory behaviour, irrespective of whether externalregulatory and accountability conditions of reward orpunishment exist or not.Standards, Values and Self-AccountabilityImplicit in the definition of self-accountability is thecomparison of an individual’s ‘actual’ decision or anaction with the ‘personal standards’ they hold on thatdecision or action. Such comparative cognitions leadto certain emotional states and corrective measures toremove discrepancy, if any. Higgins (1987) propoundedthe self-discrepancy theory and identified three distinct‘domains of self’: actual-self, ideal-self and ought-self.From one’s own ‘standpoint’ (as distinct from the other’s),actual-self constitutes of attributes/standards that onebelieves they possess, ideal-self constitutes of attributes/standards one would like to possess based on their hopesand aspirations, and ought-self constitutes of attributes/s-tandards one believes that one should possess based on asense of duty or obligation (Higgins 1987).Actual-self refers to an individual’s present and repre-sents their actual perception of themselves (Oppenheimer1990). Actual-self is only one of the representations of the80 A. Dhiman et al.123self, the self being a multidimensional construct (Markusand Wurf 1987). Before being disentangled and identifiedas a separate facet of broader construct of the concept ofthe self, actual-self was subsumed under the general, uni-dimensional construct of the concept of the self. As early as1890, James (1890) identified three different parts of theself ‘‘its constituents’’, ‘‘feelings and emotions theyarouse’’ and ‘‘the actions to which they prompt’’ (p. 292).The constituents included the following two dimensions:self- as -subject (or ‘I’ or self-as-knower) and self-as-object(or ‘me’ or self-as-known). Baldwin (1897) considered thenotion of the self to be an interactive product of these twoselves, the two positioned at the two ends of a continuumrunning from the inside to the outside of a person (Smith2014). Mead (1934) considered the self as a social structuremade up of social constructions about oneself that indi-viduals experience by being part of a group they belong to.Extensive literature on the concept of the self has beencompiled in an excellent review by Wiley (1979). Actual-self constitutes the above elements as seen from one’s ownpoint of view and also seen from significant others’ pointof view, termed as standpoints by Higgins (1987).Markus and Nurius (1986) conceptualized the ideal andought selves as ‘‘possible selves’’, worthwhile to pursue asfuture potentials. In an empirical study, Higgins (1987)found that when subjects could not meet ‘ideal personalstandards’ seen from their own standpoint, they experi-enced emotions of ‘dejection’ manifested as sadness anddisappointment; the psychological situation of an absenceof positive outcomes linked to one’s hopes and wishes.And when they could not meet the ‘ought personal stan-dards’ seen from their own standpoint, they experienced‘agitation related’ emotions such as guilt, self-contemptand the psychological situation of the presence of negativeoutcomes. Such emotions trigger corrective behaviours orself-regulation to remove the discrepancy (Higgins 1987;Passyn and Sujan 2006). Passyn and Sujan (2006) alsofound that ‘higher self-accountability’ emotions such asguilt have a greater potential to affect compliant behaviourcompared to ‘lower self-accountability’ emotions such ashope. The former are evoked as a consequence of ‘oughtstandards’ and latter corresponds to ‘ideal standards’.Individuals set these self-standards based on certainbeliefs and values they strongly hold. Values have beendefined as ‘‘general standards by which we formulateattitudes and beliefs and according to which we behave’’(Posner et al. 1987, p. 376). Rokeach (1973) argued thatvalues can be classified into terminal and instrumentaltypes. ‘‘Terminal values are values that lead to desirablestate of existence (e.g. a world of peace, wisdom), whereasinstrumental values describe preferred modes of conduct(e.g. honesty, love)’’ (Finegan 1994). Further Rokeach(ibid.) argued that the instrumental values more than theterminal values, and within instrumental those concerningmorality more than those concerning competence, wouldhave ‘oughtness’. Rokeach (ibid.) in establishing thesupraordinate, almost universal nature of ‘oughtness’ citesHeider (1958)—‘‘ought can be represented as a cognizedwish or requirement of suprapersonal objective order whichhas an invariant reality, and whose validity thereforetranscends the point of view of any one person’’ (p. 222).To summarize, it is evident that instrumental values likehonesty and self control, primarily concerning morality,have the characteristics of ‘oughtness’, leading to a morelikely evocation of high ‘self -accountability’ when theseare salient as self-standards.Social Norms and Self-AccountabilityValues differ from social norms in that while the formertranscend specific situations, the latter are a prescription orproscription to behave in a certain way in specific situa-tions (Rokeach 1973). Thus the same value (s) can be theguiding principle for different norms. As an illustration,‘conservation of food’ as a social norm can be argued to bebased on ‘self control’ and ‘responsible’ instrumental val-ues and ‘equality’ terminal value, three such sentinel val-ues identified by Rokeach (ibid.). Thus social norms basedon ‘ought’ values themselves assume ‘ought’ characteri-zation especially when there is a predominant consensus onsuch norms in a specific society. ‘Conservation of food’ isone such social norm in Indian society, as a few studiesreported that respondents working in the organizations,similar to subjects in this study, had learnt conservationearly in their lives in the families they grew up in (Jainet al. 2013; Shrinivasan et al. 2013).In turn, social norms reinforce one’s values and beliefs(Trevino et al. 1998). Wherever there is high social con-sensus that an act or a decision is good or bad or a norm has‘ought’ characterisation, individuals will tend to feel moreaccountable internally and externally to such a norm.Maheshwari and Ganesh (2004) studied successful imple-mentation of a ‘code of ethics’ at Tata Steel, an organi-zation reputed for its adherence to ethical practices. Theyfound that ethics got institutionalized in the organizationthrough a three-stage process: creating awareness andbuilding consensus about ethical practices, creating formalor informal monitoring mechanisms (preferably the lattere.g. family pressure), and rewarding or punishing ethical orunethical behaviour respectively. The study illustrated theimportance of creating awareness and building consensus.Outside such a formal setup, in society at large, there existnorms and a consensus about certain universal values, e.g.honesty. Creating awareness and making individuals con-scious about these norms are essential, so that they feelself-accountable and regulate their behaviour accordingly.Effect of Self-Accountability on Self-Regulatory Behaviour: A Quasi-Experiment 81123Self-Accountability and Self-RegulationThe influence of self-accountability on an individual’sbehaviour can be understood by research in the domain ofself-regulation. Self-regulation is a conscious effort on thepart of individuals to align behaviours with established orpreferred standards (Vohs and Baumeister 2004). Itinvolves directing behaviour towards apriori goal statesconsidered necessary or appealing as standards. In thisstudy, ‘conservation of food’ is the social norm evoking theself-regulatory effort of reducing food wastage.In the current study, it is proposed that in the absence ofstrong external accountability conditions, it is the individ-ual’s self-accountability that affects their decisions andactions. And individuals experience this accountabilitymore when certain ‘ought values’ and ‘ought norms’become salient as self-standards. Meeting these standardsfulfils an individual’s need to maintain a self-image. In theabsence of any external accountability, perceived self-ac-countability explains the cognition underlying the effect ofnorm on behaviour. Carver and Scheier (1982) argued that‘‘directing attention to self when a behavioural standard hasbeen evoked by the nature of one’s role or setting, engagesthe comparator at the level of control that is superordinate.The result is a tendency to compare one’s perceptions ofone’s present state or behaviour against the standard,leading to a reduction of perceptible differences betweenthe two’’ (p. 120).Further, the self-discrepancy theory postulates that ‘‘in-dividuals are motivated to reach a condition where their self-concept matches their personally relevant self guides’’(Higgins 1987, p 321). Self-guides are ‘‘ideal-self’’ and‘‘ought-self’’ ideas that form the standards individuals try tocompare their ‘‘actual-self’’ with and bridge the gap. Duvaland Wicklund’s (1972) theory of objective self awarenessalso similarly argued that increasing attention on oneself, thediscrepancies between the real self and personal standardsbecome starkly important, leading to a motivation to removethe gap. As already mentioned, evidence exists that in case ofself-discrepancy, negative feelings may result (Higginsibid). These feelings motivate individuals to bridge gapsbetween actual behaviour and standards, as also predicted bythe control model of self-regulation (Carver and Scheier1982) and the theory of cognitive and behavioural change(Rokeach 1973). Such negative feedback operationalizesself-accountability leading to corrective self-regulatorybehaviour. The present research tests ‘‘conservation of food’’as an ought-to adhere to standard.However, all extant theories—self-discrepancy theory,theory of objective behaviour and the control model of self-regulation—emphasize that the above comparison (self-accountability) and corrective behaviour (self-regulation)would only occur when self-discrepancy is available andaccessible to an individual (Higgins ibid). Self-discrepancyis available more readily when the divergence is moreintense. It is more accessible if the activation of discrep-


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