Power can cause even the most level-headed individuals to act in self-serving ways. Many individuals believe that power is a corruptive force and that most people who gain vast amounts of power inevitably use it for ill. However, a recent study, led by Katherine A. DeCelles of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada, suggests that power may have positive and negative effects. In work environments, disparities in power can cause a division in collaboration. People in positions of power can overlook the needs and interests of their subordinates in favor of their own interests. But power can also create a feeling of empathy and may even cause an individual to place the needs of others before their own. Research on power has demonstrated a link between one’s self-interest and their moral identity. The more aware one is of their values and self-concept, the stronger their sense of moral identity, and in most cases, the more empathetic and attentive to other’s needs.
DeCelles and her colleagues conducted a series of surveys on employed adults to determine how moral identity influenced the effect of power. She found that the participants who had the weakest moral identities were the most self-serving when in a position of power. Conversely, DeCelles and her team also discovered that the individuals with the highest moral identity were the most likely to put other’s interests ahead of their own when given an opportunity to wield power. Additionally, this dynamic was seen in cases of trait power as well as manipulated power, emphasizing the influence of moral identity on self-serving behaviors. “In sum, our research demonstrates how power and moral identity interact to explain individuals’ moral awareness and self-interested behavior,” said DeCelles. “Our hope is that this study motivates other scholars to continue examining the intersection of power and morality at work.”
DeCelles, K. A., DeRue, D. S., Margolis, J. D., Ceranic, T. L. (2012, January 16). Does Power Corrupt or Enable? When and Why Power Facilitates Self-Interested Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026811
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.