Different Shades of Gray: A Priming Experimental Study on How Institutional Logics Influence Organizational Actor Judgment

Date01 March 2019
AuthorTamyko Ysa,Vicenta Sierra,Benard Ngoye
Published date01 March 2019
256 Public Administration Review March | Apr il 20 19
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 2, pp. 256–266. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13006.
Benard Ngoye
Vicenta Sierra
Tamyko Ysa
Ramon Llull University/ESADE, Spain
Different Shades of Gray: A Priming Experimental
Study on How Institutional Logics Influence
Organizational Actor Judgment
Abstract: This article examines whether and how judgments made by individual organizational actors may be
influenced by institutional logics—the historical patterns of cultural symbols and material practices, including
assumptions, values, and beliefs, by which individuals and organizations provide meaning to their daily activity,
organize time and space, and reproduce their lives and experiences. Using an experimental design, the authors prime
three institutional logics in three independent groups of managers (n = 98) and assess the influence of the primes
on individual-level judgment preferences. The results show that such priming affects participants’ judgments in an
ambiguous judgmental task, with each prime influencing judgment in a discernibly unique pattern. Consequently, a
more nuanced account of larger patterns of behavior can be constructed. The findings highlight the potential of text
as priming stimuli within institutionally complex work settings such as those in the public sector, an important yet
underexamined issue.
Evidence for Practice
• Managers should recognize that their perceptions and judgments may be influenced by institutional logics,
which, in turn, may be primed by incidental features in their decision environments.
• The work environment may perpetuate certain approaches in the public sector based on the type of stimuli
that decision makers are (continually) exposed to. These effects, though subtle and nonconscious, may
explain the pervasiveness of certain logics.
• Text, and how it is used in organizational communication, may by design or otherwise influence
organizational actor perception or receptivity to the object of the communication.
Many authors (e.g., Coule and Patmore 2013;
Currie and Spyridonidis 2016) suggest that
difficulties and unanticipated outcomes in
organizational action could be due to differences in
the cognitive structures that are used by individuals
and groups within the organization. Specifically,
these cognitive structures, as “built-up repertoires of
assumptions, tacit knowledge and expectations” are
used by individuals to “impose structure upon, and
impart meaning to, otherwise ambiguous social and
situational information to facilitate understanding”
(Gioia 1986, 56). They influence both collective action
as well as individual projects (Swan and Clark 2008).
Institutional logics, as one such cognitive structure,
provide actors with the context from which they
think, feel, view or otherwise experience the world
(Ford and Ford 1994; Thornton and Ocasio
1999, 2008). They consequently influence actors’
interpretations of the ambiguous world and what
reactional options are to be considered appropriate
(Friedland and Alford 1991; Suddaby and Greenwood
2005). Thus, they affect the judgments made by
individual and organizational actors (Besharov and
Smith 2014; Thornton, Ocasio, and Lounsbury 2012)
and the perception of such judgments’ appropriateness
and legitimacy within a given setting (Thornton and
Ocasio 2008).
Additionally, Besharov and Smith (2014) emphasize
the multiplicity of these institutional logics that may
arise from the state, the professions, the corporations,
the market, the religions, and the family (see also
Thornton and Ocasio 2008). These logics and
their various instantiations have been analyzed at
various levels, from the societal to the field and the
organization, where individuals and organizations
encounter their multiplicity (Greenwood et al. 2011;
Smets and Jarzabkowski 2013; Thornton, Ocasio,
and Lounsbury 2012). However, not much is known
about how individuals experience these multiple
institutional logics, as the major focus of the literature
has been at the level of the field and the organization
rather than the individual (Bévort and Suddaby 2016;
Greenwood et al. 2011; Marti and Mair 2009; Smets
and Jarzabkowski 2013). Consequently, this literature
Tamyko Ysa is full professor in the
Department of Strategy and General
Management at ESADE, Ramon Llull
University, Spain. Her current research
interests are the management of
partnerships and their impact on the
creation of public value; the design,
implementation, and evaluation of public
policies; and the relationship between
companies and governments.
E-mail: tamyko.ysa@esade.edu
Vicenta Sierra is full professor of
operations, innovations, and data science
at ESADE, Ramon Llull University, Spain.
Her fields of specialization are advanced
statistics and psychometrics.
E-mail: vicenta.sierra@esade.edu
Benard Ngoye is a PhD candidate in
the ESADE Centre for Public Governance,
Ramon Llull University, Spain. His
current interests are behavioral public
administration and management,
specifically, decision making and
performance measurement and
E-mail: benard.ngoye@esade.edu
Research Article

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