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J Appl Psychol. 2012 May;97(3):681-9. doi: 10.1037/a0026811. Epub 2012 Jan 16.

Does power corrupt or enable? When and why power facilitates self-interested behavior.

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  • 1Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6, Canada. katy.decelles@rotman.utoronto.ca

Abstract

Does power corrupt a moral identity, or does it enable a moral identity to emerge? Drawing from the power literature, we propose that the psychological experience of power, although often associated with promoting self-interest, is associated with greater self-interest only in the presence of a weak moral identity. Furthermore, we propose that the psychological experience of power is associated with less self-interest in the presence of a strong moral identity. Across a field survey of working adults and in a lab experiment, individuals with a strong moral identity were less likely to act in self-interest, yet individuals with a weak moral identity were more likely to act in self-interest, when subjectively experiencing power. Finally, we predict and demonstrate an explanatory mechanism behind this effect: The psychological experience of power enhances moral awareness among those with a strong moral identity, yet decreases the moral awareness among those with a weak moral identity. In turn, individuals' moral awareness affects how they behave in relation to their self-interest.

(PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

Comment in

  • Power. [J N J Dent Assoc. 2013]
PMID:
22250668
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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