Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The power of identity in important leadership decisions
by Kelley, Christopher Patrick, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2014, 238; 3713932
Abstract (Summary)

Why might someone avoid information that could be useful for making an important decision? Useful information can indicate that some options are better than others for achieving an important goal or averting disaster. A theory is developed here which proposes that decisions feel more important because the consequences of the decisions are more threatening the self-concept. Useful information threatens to reduce a decision maker's decision options, thus constraining their opportunities to act quickly, reduce uncertainty and make the decision in a way that is self-verifying. This occurs while a decision maker is strongly motivated to reduce the uncertainty and the threat to the self-concept generated by the decision making situation. As a result, people become less likely to access useful information when making more important decisions. This is more likely to occur when the decisions includes a substantial threat to more salient identities and core aspects of the decision maker's self-concept.

First a study is conducted to develop a measure of the relative strength of a respondent's leadership identity. Then, hypotheses derived from the theory are tested in two experiments. The hypotheses predict that participants making more important decisions will (1) experience stronger feelings, (2) value self-verifying options more and feel more certain after making a decision, (3) prefer fewer options in a subsequent decision task after making more, as opposed to less important decisions, (4) make more important decision more quickly, (5) access less useful information when making more important decisions , (6) feel more certain after avoiding useful information that could indicate an identity validating solution is inferior and less certain if accessing that information, (7) report that decisions associated with stronger feelings are more important, and (8) prefer fewer choices to pick from in a subsequent decision when having made a prior decision with less useful information.

The hypotheses are tested in two incrementally differing experimental in which participants make organizational leadership decisions after completing the instrument developed to test the strength of their leadership identity. Contrasting pairs of conditions vary theoretically important elements to make the decisions feel more or less important. Both pairs vary the importance of the decision situation by changing the definition of the situation to increase or decrease the consequences for the participant's leadership identity. The second study similarly varies the decision's importance and adds the opportunity to access various types of useful information prior to making each decision.

Findings indicate that decisions feel more important when the outcome includes a credible threat to the maintenance of a highly salient identity. Participant making more important decisions in experiment A felt more certain they were right after making their decisions. They preferred fewer options in a subsequent decision situation which indicates they felt more powerful. In Experiment B Participants were less likely to access useful information when making more important decisions. Participants who did access useful information prior to making a more important decision preferred more options in a subsequent task. This indicates they felt less powerful after making more important decisions with more information. These findings have implications for research on decision making, identity theory, leadership in organizations, and research on emotions, and the role of perceptual control in the resiliency of social structure.

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Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lovaglia, Michael J.
Commitee: Hitlin, Steve, Leicht, Kevin T., Lucas, Jeffrey W., Stewart, Greg L.
School: The University of Iowa
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- Iowa
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social psychology, Management, Sociology, Social structure, Organizational behavior
Keywords: Decision making, Emotion and decisions, Feelings of power, Identity and self-concept, Informaion use, Leadership decisions
Publication Number: 3713932
ISBN: 978-1-321-90784-1
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