A first bad apple spoils the bunch

July 30, 2019

People are more likely to judge the performance of a group based on member's that are labelled as first or number one than they are on any other member, according to new research led by Cass Business School academic Dr Janina Steinmetz.

Dr Steinmetz and her colleagues, Maferima Touré-Tillery of Northwestern University and Ayelet Fishbach from the University of Chicago, used seven separate studies to confirm that the performance of a group's first member can significantly influence people's decisions about the rest of the group.

One implication from this research can be found in supermarkets or retailers where numbered cash registers are in use - specifically on registers labelled with the numeral one.

Because the number one on a register labels its cashier as the group's first member, even though in reality it is an arbitrary number, a person who has a bad experience with the cashier at register number one will judge the whole store more harshly than if they had a bad experience at cashier number three, five or any other number.

Conversely, a pleasant experience at register number one will result in greater positivity about the store than it would at any other register.

"If the first group member to do something is bad then the whole group is seen as bad, if the first group member to do something is great then the whole group is seen as great, and this is much less the case if the middle or the last member does something," Dr Steinmetz said.

This is because, in people's experience, the first group member is often influential for the group -- a company's first employee shapes its culture much more than later employees, for example -- and people then apply this logic to first members in general.

In one research study, participants were presented with a scenario where five international cancer researchers are granted temporary work visas with a potential for extension.

When the participants were told that the scientist whose visa was approved first made a grave mistake they were more likely to judge the whole group of scientists as incompetent and less likely to support extending their work visas.

"When the first one makes the big mistake, people are more likely to say that all these scientists are terrible and we don't want them in the country," Dr Steinmetz said.

"People are more forgiving when the mistake is made by the scientist who receives their visa in the middle or last in the group and don't make such a harsh judgment."

This effect occurred although there was no reason to believe that the first researcher was special in any way, or that the group was actually incompetent. Instead, people were ready to deport the scientists because the bad apple in their group happened to be first in some arbitrary way when receiving the visa.

Other studies conducted during the research found the effect is replicated in judging students, athletes, and even racehorses.

"If the first horse of a group that are trained together runs very slowly in its race then other members of its group are expected to be slow as well and people would be less likely to bet on them," Dr Steinmetz said.
The paper The First-Member Heuristic: Group Members Labelled "First" Influence Judgment and Treatment of Groups is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

City University London

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.