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Monday, 04 January 2010 20:46

Study finds powerful people often don't possess morality they publicly profess

According to U.S./Netherlands research, powerful and influential people often times publicly profess to be moral and virtuous but sometimes don't take the high road to morality in their actual deeds and actions. They do a lot of lying, cheating, and stealing while telling others not to lie, cheat, and steal.

The 12.30.2009 ScienceDaily.com article Why Powerful People -- Many of Whom Take a Moral High Ground -- Don't Practice What They Preach, begins by saying: “2009 may well be remembered for its scandal-ridden headlines, from admissions of extramarital affairs by governors and senators, to corporate executives flying private jets while cutting employee benefits, and most recently, to a mysterious early morning car crash in Florida.”

The article continues, “The past year has been marked by a series of moral transgressions by powerful figures in political, business and celebrity circles.”

For instance, in two widely publicized cases of powerful men not acting as they publicly preached, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty in the first quarter of 2009 for operating a multi-billion U.S. dollar Ponzi scheme that is considered one of the largest fraud cases in U.S. history; and, later in the year, Tiger Woods was exposed to having a lengthy series of mistresses while being married, while publicly professing to be a happily married family man.

Based on the seemingly endless moral transgressions brought to the forefront of news reporting from the actions of often-times-less-than-moral leaders and powerful people of our world, researchers from Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois, U.S.A.) and Tilburg University (the Netherlands) decided to find out if people in power have tendencies to show a moralistic public face but, in reality, perform less-than moralistic deeds and actions.

The researchers included Drs. Joris Lammers and Diederik A. Stapel (both from Tilburg University, the Netherlands) and Dr. Adam Galinsky (from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, U.S.A.).

The summary of their research will be published in a future issue of the journal Psychological Science, which is a publication of the Association for Psychological Science.

Page two describes the study of power and hypocrisy made by the three researchers.

Dr. Galinsky is quoted in the ScienceDaily.com article: "This research is especially relevant to the biggest scandals of 2009, as we look back on how private behavior often contradicted the public stance of particular individuals in power.”

He added, “For instance, we saw some politicians use public funds for private benefits while calling for smaller government, or have extramarital affairs while advocating family values. Similarly, we witnessed CEOs of major financial institutions accepting executive bonuses while simultaneously asking for government bailout money on behalf of their companies." [Science Daily]

The three researchers used a group of participants in a series of role-playing skits.

The subjects were assigned a position with great power or lowly power. For instance, they might be assigned to play the role of an influential prime minister, president, or senator (high power) or that of a civil servant or office worker (low power).

Then, the particpants were asked by the researchers to resolve a moral dilemma, such as whether or not to declare certain items on tax returns, whether or not to break traffic laws, and whether or not to return a stolen bicycle.

A series of five experiments were created by the researchers to be performed by the subjects.

Each experiment involved people of power and moral hypocrisy, where hypocrisy is the persistent holding of opinions, feelings, virtues, or standards that are publicly stated, which are not actually carried out in ones’ actions and deeds.

Page three concludes with further comments from Dr. Galinsky and additional information from the ScienceDaily.com article.

According to the Science Daily article “For example, in one experiment the ‘powerful’ participants condemned the cheating of others while cheating more themselves.”

And, “High-power participants also tended to condemn over-reporting of travel expenses. But, when given a chance to cheat on a dice game to win lottery tickets (played alone in the privacy of a cubicle), the powerful people reported winning a higher amount of lottery tickets than did low-power participants.” [Science Daily]

The researchers found that in all of the cases studied the people playing roles of power and authority showed “significant” moral hypocrisy by judging others much more strongly in such acts as “speeding, dodging taxes and keeping a stolen bike” while finding it ok for themselves to do the very same acts. [Science Daily]

Dr. Galinsky stated, "According to our research, power and influence can cause a severe disconnect between public judgment and private behavior, and as a result, the powerful are stricter in their judgment of others while being more lenient toward their own actions.” [Science Daily]

However, in one experiment the research team found that people who are in positions of power but don’t feel they should be in such powerful positions actually were much more moralistic than those in low-power positions.

That is, they held themselves to a much higher standard than what they would normally do without such authority and power.

The researchers called such behavior “hypercrisy,” or the tendency to be more difficult on oneself when in a position of power than normally would be when in a low-power position.

Galinsky concluded, "Ultimately, patterns of hypocrisy and hypercrisy perpetuate social inequality. The powerful impose rules and restraints on others while disregarding these restraints for themselves, whereas the powerless collaborate in reproducing social inequality because they don't feel the same entitlement.” [Science Daily]

Interesting comments from readers are found in the 12-30-2009 Discovery News article “Why the Powerful Lie, Cheat and Steal.”

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