In this article we offer a new perspective to the study of negative behavioral contagion in organizations. In 3 studies, we investigate the contagion effect of rudeness and the cognitive mechanism that explains this effect. Study 1 results show that low-intensity negative behaviors like rudeness can be contagious, and that this contagion effect can occur based on single episodes, that anybody can be a carrier, and that this contagion effect has second-order consequences for future interaction partners. In Studies 2 and 3 we explore in the laboratory the cognitive mechanism that underlies the negative behavioral contagion effect observed in Study 1. Specifically, we show that rudeness activates a semantic network of related concepts in individuals' minds, and that this activation influences individual's hostile behaviors. In sum, in these 3 studies we show that just like the common cold, common negative behaviors can spread easily and have significant consequences for people in organizations.
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