Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lord Acton was, and is, correct

Power Increases Hypocrisy: Moralizing in Reasoning, Immorality in Behavior

Joris Lammers, Diederik Stapel & Adam Galinsky
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Abstract: Five studies explored whether power increases moral hypocrisy, a situation
characterized by imposing strict moral standards on others but practicing less strict moral behavior oneself. In Experiment 1, compared to the powerless, the powerful condemned other people's cheating, while cheating more themselves. In Experiments 2-4, the powerful were more strict in judging others' moral transgressions but more lenient in judging their own transgressions. A final study found that the effect of power on moral hypocrisy depends on its legitimacy: When power was illegitimate, the moral hypocrisy effect not only disappeared but reversed, with the illegitimate powerful becoming more strict in judging their own than others' behavior. This pattern, which might be dubbed hypercrisy, was also found among low-power participants in Experiments 3 and 4. We discuss how patterns of hypocrisy and hypercrisy among the powerful and powerless can help perpetuate social inequality.


Shawn said...

...while I can't vouch for the truthiness of this, Jonah Goldberg relates in Liberal Fascism that the "power corrupts..." quote has more to do with others' dismissing the heinousness of those in power's actions than it does with the tendency to lead those in power toward heinous acts.

66-- Lord Acton's famous observation that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely" has long been misunderstood. Acton was not arguing that power causes powerful leaders to become corrupt (though he probably believed that, too). Rather, he was noting that historians tend to forgive the powerful for transgressions they would never condone by the weak (Goldberg 2009, 84). --99

So, what do onlookers think of the powerful's actions in said forthcoming paper?

That interplay between actions and approval is more intriguing, I'd say, especially when one has a powerful (and still relatively popular, polls notwithstanding) President who's performing arguably the same acts as his unpopular predecessor.

Tom said...

"When power was illegitimate, the moral hypocrisy effect ... reversed"?? I suppose that means "When the powerful person perceived his power to be illegitimate...."

I like this! Since I believe that all power is illegitimate, I can claim immunity from Acton's law.

Doesn't matter: one of the dogs will usually obey me. That's the extent of my power.