Jason Kautz

Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Moore School of Business

First Advisor

M. Audrey Korsgaard


The current social undermining literature suggests the important role of the witness in determining the negative impact on the victim. However, the literature has yet to explicitly explore the witness’ role in social undermining. In this dissertation, I integrate theory and research on social influence and emotions to develop a framework that suggests social undermining be considered a form of social influence. This framework allows for the exploration of the witness’ sense-making process following a social undermining event along with the accumulated effects of repeated exposure to a series of social undermining events. I propose that social undermining influences witness perceptions of underminer and/or victim trustworthiness as well as subsequent witness behaviors. Witness relational identification with the underminer will increase the likelihood of accepting social undermining, which will facilitate feelings of contempt, while witness relational identification with the victim will decrease the likelihood of accepting social undermining, which will facilitate feelings of anger and fear. Additionally, underminer power will shape the expression of behavior such that high underminer power decreases retaliatory behaviors toward the underminer. I test these premises in two empirical studies. In study 1, I utilize a critical incident recall task to explore the social influence factors that shape the witness’ response to social undermining (n = 100). Results indicate that witness’ experience feelings of contempt, anger, and fear following a social undermining event. Feelings of contempt promote negative perceptions of victim trustworthiness and encourage behaviors designed to harm v the victim. Feelings of anger encourage retaliatory behaviors toward underminer. Feelings of fear encourage behaviors designed to harm the victim. In study 2, I utilize a multi-round experiment to test the influence of relational identification and underminer power on response to a campaign of social undermining (n = 308 observations). Results indicate that witness perceive the victim as progressively less trustworthy and give increasingly fewer resources to the victim over time, regardless of relational identification and underminer power. Additionally, witness’ who identify with the underminer give increasingly more resources to the underminer over time than those who identify with the victim. The results of these studies provide evidence for the significant role that the witness plays in social undermining.