When Does Power Corrupt? Reactions to Uncertainty and Moral Decisions
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The term “power corrupts” has been recognised since it was first termed by David Kipnis in 1972. Individuals with a sense of power are goal oriented, and confident. However, these traits have also been related to selfishness and immoral behaviour, giving evidence for the theory that power corrupts. Individuals are also known to more strongly adhere to cherished beliefs and values when experiencing an uncertain or anxious event. Termed as reactive approach motivation, this theory suggests that individuals turn to cherished beliefs and values to create a tunnel vision effect, and distract from the negative psychological and physiological effects of uncertainty. Therefore, in the current research, we expect individuals with a high sense of personal power to become more goal-oriented and selfish, when made to feel anxious and uncertain. Participants were asked to complete personality scales, followed by being assigned to one of two conditions where they partook in an anxiety manipulation, and finally participating in the ‘Broken Promise Paradigm’, an economic money game where individuals could be dishonest to manipulate a monetary reward. Data was collected in a lab environment, with participant’s also contributing electroencephalography data while wearing EMOTIV EPOC headsets. The results of the moderated multiple regression, and event-related potential (P300) brain data analysis, indicated that power does not always corrupt, and that power and anxiety did not significantly affect an individual’s honesty and morality. We may therefore conclude that it is not an individual’s sense of power that corrupts, but more likely an individual’s values, traits and beliefs that are most salient to them. Outcomes of the study were discussed in terms of their implications whilst recommendations for future research relating power and anxiety were made.