Distributing adventitious outcomes: Social norms, egocentric martyrs, and the effects on future relationships

Judi McLean Parks, Terry L. Boles, Donald E. Conlon, Eros DeSouza, Wallace Gatewood, Kevin Gibson, Jennifer J. Halpern, Don C. Locke, Jamie C. Nekich, Paul Straub, George Wilson, J. Keith Murnighan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Research on the distribution of resources typically focuses on anticipated outcomes. This paper investigates the social norms people use to distribute adventitious (unanticipated) outcomes. Participants in this study read a scenario where either they, or the person they were with (an acquaintance or a friend), received either an unexpected gain or loss which was or was not easily divisible. Participants were then asked to continue the story by describing what they believed would happen after the adventitious event. We measured if and how the outcome was divided between the two individuals involved as well as subjects' and an outside observer's perceptions of the fairness of these divisions and any expectations they had about the effect of the event on the quality of the relationship between the two. Results suggest that people endorse a "losers weepers" norm more often than they do a "finders keepers" or "share and share alike" (equality) norm, although all were endorsed. Egocentric distributions and expectations permeated the story continuations. Although participants frequently suggest that they would share gains, they also expected that their sacrifices (sharing their own gain or in another's loss) would help improve the future relationship between the two more than would similar sacrifices by the other (i.e., they were often egocentric martyrs). Friendship and the divisibility of the outcome also affected allocation rules and expectations for the future relationship. The discussion highlights the irony associated with the finding that when an adventitious gain is not shared with another, the future relationship between the two is expected to be less positive. Thus, adventitious outcomes (and gains in particular) can be a double-edged sword.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-200
Number of pages20
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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