When Core Self-Evaluations Influence Employees’ Deviant Reactions to Abusive Supervision: The Moderating Role of Cognitive Ability

  • Donald H. Kluemper
  • Kevin W. Mossholder
  • Dan Ispas
  • Mark N. Bing
  • Dragos Iliescu
  • Alexandra Ilie
Original Paper


Viewing workplace deviance within a victim precipitation framework, we explore how abusive supervisors target subordinates low in core self-evaluations (CSE) to explain when such employees respond by engaging in workplace deviance. We theorize that employees who are lower in CSE receive more abusive supervision, which generates subsequent harmful reactions toward supervisors, peers, and the organization. This occurs primarily when employees lack sufficient cognitive resources in dealing with supervisor abuse. We test, replicate, and extend our theoretical model in three empirical studies. Results demonstrate that lower employee CSE drew more abusive supervision and led low-CSE employees to exhibit workplace deviance. This abusive supervision mediation effect was stronger for employees with comparatively lower cognitive ability levels. The findings are discussed with regard to theoretical and ethical issues in confronting employee abuse.


Core self-evaluations Abusive supervision Deviance Cognitive ability Moderated mediation 



We lament the passing of Mark Bing, our friend and colleague. We wish to acknowledge Shannon G. Taylor for his assistance with this manuscript, Maureen L. Ambrose and James P. Burton for comments made on earlier versions of this manuscript, and Wonderlic Inc. for providing gratis copies of their measure of cognitive ability.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. This article does not contain any studies performed using animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald H. Kluemper
    • 1
  • Kevin W. Mossholder
    • 2
  • Dan Ispas
    • 3
  • Mark N. Bing
    • 4
  • Dragos Iliescu
    • 5
  • Alexandra Ilie
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Managerial StudiesUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of ManagementAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyIllinois State UniversityNormalUSA
  4. 4.Department of ManagementUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology, National School of Political and Administrative StudiesUniversity of BucharestBucharestRomania

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