Being biased against friends to appear unbiased

Alex Shaw*, Shoham Choshen-Hillel, Eugene M. Caruso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In contexts where fairness is important, people attempt to avoid the appearance of partiality. Although such efforts to avoid appearing partial can often reduce biases, we argue that, at times, such efforts can actually lead people to be biased against their friends. We theorize that people do so because they recognize that benefitting their friends may be viewed by others as partial. This argument makes two key predictions, which we investigated in eight studies using workplace scenarios. First, we predicted and found that, when the decision was public, allocators were reluctant to give a bonus to a deserving employee when that employee was a friend rather than a non-friend. In private, however, participants were willing to give the bonus to the deserving person whether she was a friend or a non-friend, suggesting that their public behavior was aimed at avoiding the appearance of bias. Second, we predicted and found that allocators’ reluctance to give a bonus to a deserving friend is mediated by their beliefs that others would find this behavior to be unfair. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of this bias resulting from a desire to avoid appearing partial.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)104-115
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Inc.


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