Thursday, January 28, 2010

Power Corrupts

"All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely"
                                                                 - Lord Acton
We all tend to recognize the above statement as true (at least to some degree), but cliches and old wives tales (so called conventional wisdom), are rarely backed by real science or statistical methodology.  Even if we could show that the majority of people who obtain power exhibit some form of corruption (meaning we would have to catch everyone who's doing something wrong), there would still be no way (out in the real world) to determine whether power causes people to go bad, or if corrupt people tend to be drawn to positions of power.  A recent set of experiments by Drs. Lammers and Galinsky (of Tilburg and Northwestern Universities respectively) set out to determine what role power plays in our sense of morality.  Here's a great summary of the experiments at the Economist, and while I am usually posting about science that overturns "conventional wisdom", in this case, it seems that Lord Acton was right, at least, mostly... I think the most interesting finding in the study was not that power leads to moral hypocrisy, but that a sense of entitlement appears to be a necessary condition for the abuse of power.  So, not all power corrupts, only power combined with a sense of entitlement.

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