Students who had been made to feel powerful were found to favour punishments

Power may cause distrust claims study
Features Monday, July 04, 2016 - 13:34

Does your boss always punish you? If so, he or she may be afraid of losing the power and position, reveals a study.

The findings showed that distrust is the main reason why leaders impose punishments on the people over whom they have power.

Afraid of losing their power, the leaders use punishments as deterrents and to ensure that similar rule-breaking behaviour never happens again.

“Leaders expect other people not to obey the rules and punish them on the basis of this distrust,” said Marlon Mooijman, psychologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Further, leaders are afraid that if they are too trusting of others, this trust can be abused. This would then, of course, threaten their position.

Unfortunately, punishments of this kind do not have the desired effect. "We see that some power systems can actually exacerbate the problems. This particularly relates to issues such as unethical behaviour, plagiarism and fraud," the researchers explained.

"When people feel distrusted, they are less likely to obey the rules. They see this assumption on the part of the leaders as a sign of disrespect. It also violates an implicit social contract: If you treat me well, I will act accordingly," Mooijman added.

For the study, the team conducted experiments with groups of students, who were temporarily assigned to a manager position. They were asked to write about an incident in which they felt very powerful, or conversely very powerless.

They then had to decide how someone who had committed plagiarism should be punished.

Students who had been made to feel powerful were found to favour punishments designed to make an example of the offenders.

The deterrent aspect was important, and some were even prepared to publicly name the people who had committed plagiarism.


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