Judging the actions of “whistle-blowers” versus “leakers”: Labels influence perceptions of dissenters who expose group misconduct

Kimberly Rios, Zig A. Ingraffia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although moral and collective concerns have been found to predict expressions of dissent, little research has examined conditions under which dissenters are perceived as acting out of such concerns. Three studies tested whether judgments of dissenters who expose group misconduct can depend on subtle labeling differences. In Study 1, participants rated their actions as more morally based, and themselves as more likely to express dissent, after reading a scenario in which they were labeled a “whistle-blower” (vs. “leaker”). In Studies 2–3, participants who read a passage describing an employee of an organization (Study 2) or a well-known individual (Edward Snowden, Study 3) as a “whistle-blower,” relative to “leaker,” viewed these individuals as more morally and collectively concerned, which in turn mediated perceived deservingness of punishment. Implications for the factors that lead dissenters to be judged positively, for psychological effects of labels, and for generalizability across contexts are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-569
Number of pages17
JournalGroup Processes and Intergroup Relations
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • deviance
  • dissent
  • labeling
  • moral judgments
  • whistle-blower

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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