How Bad Calls and Makeup Calls Operate in Organizations

Topic(s): decision making, ethics
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Makeup Calls in Organizations: An Application of Justice to the Study of Bad Calls
Authors: M.A. Thornton-Lugo, M.W. McCarter, J.R. Clark, W.Luse, S.J. Hyde, Z. Heydarifard, L.S.R. Huang
Reviewed by: Josie Anker

Bad calls and makeup calls are often studied in the world of sports. Bad calls are decision-making errors that have a negative impact on others, such as if an umpire in a baseball game were to call a pitch a ball when it is actually a strike. Makeup calls refer to decisions or behaviors that attempt to make amends for harm caused to others by a bad call. For example, if the umpire were to call a subsequent pitch that was clearly a ball a strike, in order to “make up” for the previous bad call.

Little is known about when and why bad calls may lead to makeup calls. Additionally, despite being primarily studied in sports, bad calls and makeup calls can occur in the workplace as well.


Researchers (Thornton-Lugo et al., 2022) conducted several studies to more fully understand how bad calls and makeup calls operate in two different contexts. In the sports context, they used archival data from Major League Baseball. In the context of other organizations, they conducted a study with archival data from financial analysts, a laboratory study, and a field study.

Overall, the researchers found evidence suggesting that making a bad call indeed led to a greater likelihood of utilizing a makeup call. This occurred due to feelings of guilt on the part of the person who made the bad call. However, the authors showed that with an increase in outcome gravity – or the severity of the decision’s outcomes – people may become less likely to utilize a makeup call following a bad call.


This study has practical implications for managers engaging in ethical decision-making. The authors note that bad calls may lead to subsequent calls that are morally questionable, as a means to “make up” for the bad call. Therefore, if a makeup call is ultimately illegal or unethical, the decision-maker may still be subject to punishment by authorities or other repercussions despite the good intentions. Therefore, the researchers urge organizations to come up with other ways to establish fairness that do not require employees to engage in makeup calls that may be ethically or legally questionable.


Thornton-Lugo, M. A., McCarter, M. W., Clark, J. R., Luse, W., Hyde, S. J., Heydarifard, Z., & Huang, L. S. R. (2022). Makeup calls in organizations: An application of justice to the study of bad calls. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

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