Levi Bolinger

Major: Psychology
Mentor: Dr. Margaret S. Stockdale

If You're Like Me, You're Not Guilty: Effects of In-Group Bias on Moral Licensing and Sexual Harassment Judgments

Given that targets of sexual harassment tend to be women and perpetrators tend to be men, sexual harassment may inherently be an inter-group issue. This notion is further supported by the fact that men are less likely than women to regard accusations of sexual harassment as credible. To promote justice around this issue, my research seeks to better understand how accusations of sexual harassment are judged in an inter-group context. To this end, the present study examines moral licensing in a minimal group paradigm, to see if alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment receive more permissive judgments from those in their in-group. Participants (101 adults, 38.6% male) reviewed a report, describing either a member of their in-group or out-group as the alleged perpetrator of workplace sexual harassment, then rated the severity of the alleged harassments, the credibility of the accuser, and the extent to which the accused should be held responsible and punished. Similar implicit judgments were also assessed, using a specialized implicit association test developed for this study. The results suggest that explicit judgments were affected by in-group bias, however, this effect was not mediated by moral licensing mechanisms (i.e., crediting or credentialing). Instead, group membership had a direct effect on sexual harassment judgments moderated by socially desirable responding (SDR), such that participants high in SDR issued more permissive judgments when the alleged perpetrator was a member of their in-group. Interventions aimed at reducing rates of sexual harassment and promoting accountability should incorporate methods to highlight and overcome these biases.