Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Wayne Harrison

Second Advisor

C. Raymond Millimet

Third Advisor

Lynn K. Harland


Punishment continues to be used by organizations as one method to eliminate unwanted employee behaviors. Bennett (1998) argued that managers must be aware of two aspects of the punishment situation: (a) the punishment intensity and (b) the negative consequences of the punishment. Previous research indicates that strong punishments are most effective at changing unwanted behaviors, but strong punishments are also more prone to producing negative attitudes in the punished individual. One way managers may be able to reduce the negative impact of punishment is by using explanations regarding the need for punishment. These explanations are called social accounts. Not all social accounts have the same effectiveness; therefore, both ideological and causal accounts were examined in this research to evaluate their effectiveness in mitigating the negative impact of punishment. Using a 3x3 between-subjects design, the effect of punishment severity (low, moderate and high) and social account type (ideological, causal, and redundant) on performance, fairness of punishment, Interactional Justice, satisfaction with the experiment, anger, and intentions to retaliate was assessed. One hundred eighty undergraduate students from a Midwest university participated in the study. Participants were given an opportunity to win lottery tickets for a $150 gift certificate based on their performance on two simple tasks. Participants were told that lottery tickets would be

removed (low, moderate, or high punishment) if they did not perform satisfactorily on Task 1. After the punishment, participants were given one of three social accounts and a set of questionnaires examining their attitudes. Task 2 was completed to determine the behavior change from Task 1 to Task 2. A significant main effect of punishment severity was found for punishment fairness, satisfaction with the experiment, anger, and intentions to retaliate. A significant main effect of account type was found for Interactional Justice and satisfaction with the experiment. Finally, a significant interaction of punishment severity and account type was found for performance such that a moderate punishment with a social account produced greater task 2 performance after accounting for task 1 performance. Despite lacking significance, other conditions produced high task 2 performances. This research indicates that punishment severity and account type have a simple relationship with the attitudinal variables and have a complex relationship with task performance. Future research should examine the characteristics and presentation of social accounts in punishment situations that maximally reduce the negative impact of punishment incidents.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Psychology and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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