You may want to discuss or assignthe following article:

Rucker, D. R., & Petty, R. E. (2003). Effects ofaccusations on the accuser: The moderating

    role of accuser culpability. Personality and Social PsychologyBulletin, 29, 1259-1271.


The authors report on an interesting topic (the benefits ofaccusing others), describe two interesting 2 X 2 between-subjects factorialexperiments, do a great job of showing how study 1 follows from the research ofRucker and Pratkanis (2001) and how study 2 follows from study 1, and proposesix different ways to follow up on their research (three of which would be easyfor students to do). In addition, the article is easy for your students toobtain (students who buy the book can get it by using the Infotrac® subscriptionthat comes with Research Design Explained),and the article is relatively easy to students to read (to make it even easier,see Table 1).


Article summary


The article starts by pointing out that research has shownthat attacking others’ characters (e.g., negative ads) works. The article then points out that researchhas not extensively studied the effect of making accusations on theaccuser’s reputation. Then, the authors report on an article

Rucker, D. D., & Pratkanis, A. R. (2001). Projection as aninterpersonal influence tactic:

The effects of the pot calling thekettle black. Personality and Social Psychology

Bulletin, 27, 1494-1507.


showing that an accused person could benefit by accusingothers. This effect was called “projection.” The authors also tryto explain why the projection paradigm obtains the opposite results (theaccuser being perceived as less guilty) as what would be obtained with“spontaneous trait transference” paradigm (the accuser being seenas more guilty because the accuser is associated with those accusations ). Theauthors focus on two differences between the paradigms: (a) accusers in“projection” paradigm may actually be guilty and  (b) participants in the “projection”paradigm process the information more deeply than participants in the“spontaneous trait transference” paradigm. The authors then suggesta person who is suspected of being dishonest may benefit by accusing others ofbeing dishonest because that accusation shows that the person actually valueshonesty, but that a person who is assumed to be honest doesn’tcommunicate anything new about that person’s honesty by accusing someoneelse of being dishonest.  Inexperiment 1, “a 2 (employee culpability: culpable or not culpable ) X 2(accusation: present or absent) between-subjects factorial” experiment,the authors tested the hypothesis that culpability would moderate theaccusation effect. Ohio State students were led to believe that they were, aspart of a project designed to improve a company’s personnel evaluationsystem, reading a real employee’s personnel file. The supervisorevaluation either mentioned that the employee did not meet two key deadlines(culpable condition) or that the employee finished the projects early(nonculpable condition). The employee comment either accused coworkers ofslacking off (accusation present) or did not (accusation absent). Participantsthen rated the employee on five 7-point scales. Conceptually, all five scalesseemed to be measuring the extent to which participants perceived the employeeas competent. Thus, not surprisingly, combining the measures resulted in ascale that had a high degree of internal consistency (Cronbach’s a =.84). The authors obtained a crossover interaction with culpable employeesbeing rated higher when they accused coworkers whereas nonculpable employeeswere rated lower when they accused coworkers.

            InExperiment 2, the authors replicated Experiment 1 and tested “whetherperceived work ethic mediates the effect of accusations on performance ratingsfor culpable individuals but perceived friendliness mediates the effect ofaccusations on performance ratings for nonculpable individuals.”  Procedurally, the main difference fromExperiment 1 was adding two 7-point questions about the employee’s workethic and two 7-point questions about the employee’s friendliness.

When analyzing the results from thesame scale used in Experiment 1, the crossover interaction obtained inExperiment 1 was replicated. When analyzing the results from the new“work ethic” scale, the authors found that making accusationsboosted the culpable employee’s perceived work ethic, but makingaccusations did not boost the nonculpable employee’s perceived workethic. When analyzing the results from the new “friendliness”scale, the authors found that making accusations made the nonculpable employeeappear less friendly, but that making accusations did not make the culpableemployee appear any less friendly. Regression analyses supported the idea thatperceived work ethic mediated performance ratings for culpable employeeswhereas perceived friendliness mediated performance ratings for nonculpableemployees. The article concludes by stating some practical implications of theresults (criminals and dirty politicians may benefit by making accusations) andby outlining six lines of potential followup research.


Table 1

Helping Students Understand the Article


 Tips, Comments, and Problem Areas


“boundary conditions” of a tactic  means conditions under which the tactic will not work. 


“exculpatory”: proving that someone is not guilty of the misdeed

 as discussed in Chapter 2, “moderators of an effect” would be variables that reverse, neutralize, weaken, or strengthen the effect. Knowing the moderators allow us to know under what circumstances the tactic will be effective.  “Mediators” refer to what mechanisms (in this case, beliefs) are responsible for the effect. Knowing the mediators allows us to know how and why the tactic works.

“Nonculpable”: Not guilty, not responsible for the bad deed.

“Culpable”: Guilty, responsible for the bad deed.

Experiment 1

“mundane realism” refers to the degree to which the study, or tasks that the participant performs during the study, resemble a real life situation.

Cornbach’s a of .84 indicates that the items on the scale were internally consistent (see pp. 101-104 in the text).

M is an abbreviation for mean, SD for standard deviation ( a

measure of spread)

If you have trouble understanding the graph (Figure 1), the last two sentences of the results section explain it to you.

“asymmetry”: difference—in this case, it refers to making accusations having one effect when a person is innocent but another  effect when a person is guilty.

Self-handicapping: giving oneself an excuse for performing poorly (e.g., not studying for a test)

Experiment  2

You will not understand every word or term of the “Mediational analyses” subsection of the Results section. You will probably not know what regression is, what the Sobel mediation test is, or what the statistics in parentheses mean. However, you can understand the essence of the Mediational analyses subsection because you don’t need to know those terms to understand what the researchers found.

“parsimoniously’:  simply, economically, and elegantly.



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