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The Pleistocene Manager: An Empirical Investigation of Agency Social Contracts in Organizations

Wasieleski, David Michael (2005) The Pleistocene Manager: An Empirical Investigation of Agency Social Contracts in Organizations. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This research project takes the position that there is a biological basis to social contract formation in business and to social contract dissolution. Its stance is that individuals cannot escape the natural forces that govern these relationships, by rite that these forces have on the structuring of the neural architecture of the human brain. While it is argued in this project that the neural algorithms in the brain are formed through evolutionary time to perform specific tasks that aided in the economizing activities of our ancestors, this structural design is not absolute. Rather, the neural circuits which formed in response to adaptive challenges facing our ancestors are susceptible to cultural influences, hierarchical arrangements, and organizational elaboration. So, although it is inescapable that biological forces shaped a fixed neural structure that guides and limits humans' abilities in the present day, naturally formed cultural variables in corporations moderate the activation of these neural circuits in ordinary business social contract situations.This dissertation attempts to inform the business ethics field with insights from evolutionary psychology by examining business respondents' behavior when confronted with a social contract situation that involves cheating. En route to this goal, the research project empirically tests for the presence of cheater-detection/social-contract neural algorithms in a sample of business practitioners and undergraduate business students, as an extension of the research conducted by evolutionary psychologists, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. Based on the theoretical groundwork laid by evolutionary psychology and other natural science disciplines, the study examined whether human brain circuits are structured to recognize one specific type of social relationship in firms— agency arrangements.Ultimately, this study's central thesis is: Although corporate agents' minds are biologically evolved to identify cheaters in social contract situations, the neural circuits responsible for detecting these breaches are influenced by organizational and cultural components that affect the individuals' perceptions of the terms of the exchange. Results from the main study empirically confirm that cheater-detection algorithms are present within a business population but that these "hardwired" circuits are moderated by cultural influences in business organizations. Implications for organizations and ethical decision making are offered and discussed.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wasieleski, David
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairBirnberg, Jacobbirnberg@katz.pitt.eduBIRNBERG
Committee CoChairFrederick, William Cbillfred@katz.pitt.eduBILLFRED
Committee MemberWood, Donna
Committee MemberWeber,
Committee MemberGaulin,
Date: 16 May 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 14 February 2005
Approval Date: 16 May 2005
Submission Date: 12 May 2005
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business > Business Administration
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: business ethics; evolutionary psychology; reciprocal altruism; social contracts; Wason selection task
Other ID:, etd-05122005-103857
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:44
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:43


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