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Power corrupts, but control does not: what stands behind the effects of holding high positions (2018)

New research aims to disentangle the relationships between holding high positions, power over others, personal control, and antisocial tendencies.

Cislak, A., Cichocka, A., Wojcik, A. D., & Frankowska, N.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2018,  Vol 44 (6) 944 – 957

Image: Flickr /(CC BY 2.0)

“People seek high positions not to gain influence over others but to satisfy their need for personal control. Personal control tends to have positive interpersonal consequences. If this is the case, does power indeed corrupt?

“We argue that holding a high position is associated both with perceptions of power (influence over others) and personal control (influence over one’s life). Three studies showed that these two aspects might have opposite consequences: Power over others positively predicted aggressiveness (Study 1, N = 793) and exploitativeness (Study 2, N = 445), whereas personal control predicted these outcomes negatively.

“In Study 3 (N = 557), conducted among employees at various organizational positions, the effects of holding a high position on exploitativeness and aggressiveness were differentially mediated by power over others and personal control. We discuss these findings in light of contradicting evidence on the corruptive effects of power.”

“What psychological processes stand behind the corruptive, versus ennobling, effects of holding high positions? We believe that the key to this question lies in the understanding of different aspects of holding such positions.

“A high position is associated with two spheres of control. The first is control over others—more traditionally associated with the concept of power. The second is the ability to influence the course of one’s own life, which is usually referred to as personal control.

“In his famous observation on the corruptive effects of power, Lord Acton (1887/1906) attributed the antisocial effects of high positions to the influence over others exercised by the powerholders. But Kipnis (1972), inspired by Lord Acton’s theorizing to pioneer social psychological research into the corruptive effects of power, suggested that power brings about negative effects exactly because of the internal locus of control of the powerful.

“Yet, recent psychological literature suggests that these two aspects of holding high positions should have different outcomes: Whereas power corrupts, personal control has been linked to beneficial outcomes both for individuals and their social environment.

“In this work, we examine which of these two intertwined aspects of holding high positions stands behind the only too frequently observed corruptive effects. To this end, we disentangle the relationships between holding high positions, power over others, personal control, and antisocial tendencies.”

The paper is available via this link: Power corrupts, but control does not: what stands behind the effects of holding high positions (pdf)

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