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Power Really May Lead to Moral Hypocrisy

As people reach the top, they become more critical of others, less critical of themselves, study finds

SUNDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Why do so many people in top positions fail to follow the ethical rules that they promote? New research suggests that power makes people more strict about other people's actions, but less strict about their own.

"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," Adam Galinsky, co-author of the new study and the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at Northwestern University's Kellogg School, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

The study authors simulated the moral choices made by powerful people by assigning study participants to various roles. Some served as "prime minister" while others were "civil servants." The researchers then asked the participants to cope with moral questions related to issues regarding traffic rules, taxes and stolen property.

Various experiments showed that those with the most power were more hypocritical in their own behavior but stricter about judging others. Those who didn't feel they were entitled to their power were harder on themselves than others, a phenomenon the study authors called "hypercrisy."

"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," Galinsky explained.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

Santa Clara University examines ethics.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Jan. 5, 2010

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