Article | Journal of Applied Psychology | 2012

Does Power Corrupt or Enable: When and Why Power Facilitates Self-interested Behavior

by K.A. DeCelles, D.S. DeRue, J.D. Margolis and T.L. Ceranic

Abstract

Does power corrupt a moral identity, or does it enable a moral identity to emerge? Drawing from the power literature, we propose that the psychological experience of power, although often associated with promoting self-interest, is associated with greater self-interest only in the presence of a weak moral identity. Furthermore, we propose that the psychological experience of power is associated with less self-interest in the presence of a strong moral identity. Across a field survey of working adults and in a lab experiment, individuals with a strong moral identity were less likely to act in self-interest, yet individuals with a weak moral identity were more likely to act in self-interest, when subjectively experiencing power. Finally, we predict and demonstrate an explanatory mechanism behind this effect: the psychological experience of power enhances moral awareness among those with a strong moral identity, yet decreases the moral awareness among those with a weak moral identity. In turn, individuals' moral awareness affects how they behave in relation to their self-interest.

Keywords: Power; moral identity; self-interested behavior; moral awareness; commons dilemma; Moral Sensibility; Behavior; Power and Influence;

Citation:

DeCelles, K.A., D.S. DeRue, J.D. Margolis, and T.L. Ceranic. "Does Power Corrupt or Enable: When and Why Power Facilitates Self-interested Behavior." Journal of Applied Psychology 97, no. 3 (May 2012): 681–689.