Power can corrupt even the honest

October 1, 2014

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust them to exercise it in a prosocial manner?

New research published in The Leadership Quarterly looked to discover whether power corrupts leaders. Study author John Antonakis and his colleagues from the University of Lausanne explain, "We looked to examine what Lord Acton said over 100 years ago, that 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'"

To investigate this the authors used experimental methods to distinguish between the situational and individual component; and determine if power corrupts or if corrupt individuals are drawn to power.

After completing psychometric tests to measure various individual differences, including honesty, participants played the 'dictator game' where they were given complete control over deciding pay-outs to themselves and their followers. The leaders had the choice of making prosocial or antisocial decisions, the latter of which resulted in reduced total pay-outs to the group but increased the leader's own earnings.

The findings showed that those who measured as less honest exhibited more corrupt behaviour, at least initially; however, over time, even those who initially scored high on were not shielded from the corruptive effects of power.

"We think that strong governance mechanisms and strong institutions are the key to keeping leaders in check," concludes Antonakis. "Organisations should limit how much can drink from the seductive chalice of power."

Explore further: How leaders evolve

More information: This article is "Leader corruption depends on power and testosterone" DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2014.07.010 and appears in The Leadership Quarterly, published by Elsevier.

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17 comments

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Birger
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2014
Gollum: "My Precioussssss"
ryggesogn2
2.5 / 5 (13) Oct 01, 2014
Will this end the excuses for the failure of socialism?
Socialists always blame the corrupt leader for the failure, but continue to seek an angel to be the next dictator.
Scottingham
4.8 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2014
I'd also blame it for the failure of capitalism as well. It seems clear that humans are susceptible to corruption, it's just a natural phenomenon. If we can accept this as a fact then we can start to build institutions that take it into consideration.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 01, 2014
we can start to build institutions that take it into consideration.

Been done already: the US Constitution and free market capitalism.
However, they have been corrupted by the socialists.
Returning to the Constitution and exposing the corrupt socialism that is 'progressivism'/'liberalism' may help most rational people to reject socialist fantasies.
julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 01, 2014
A criminal flaw in "behavioral" "science", not ever really having established that these "games" do provide reliable and generalizable insights. Many look like they have been engineered to get the particular result the "researcher" wants, usually something dramatic of notorious, such as that "greed is the only force which gives rise to altruism" and "power corrupts even the noble". Give examples of power figures who genuinely acting wholly nobly and in conscience! They're all crooks from the word "go". Just taking contributions from crooked businessmen, knowing they'll want reciprocation, and not squealing on corrupt machinations of fellow politicos, brands them as criminals. The system is connived so that the thugs in power will only let "the kind of crook they can work with" get in!
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2014
A criminal flaw in "behavioral" "science", not ever really having established that these "games" do provide reliable and generalizable insights. Many look like they have been engineered to get the particular result the "researcher" wants, usually something dramatic of notorious, such as that "greed is the only force which gives rise to altruism" and "power corrupts even the noble". Give examples of power figures who genuinely acting wholly nobly and in conscience! They're all crooks from the word "go". Just taking contributions from crooked businessmen, knowing they'll want reciprocation, and not squealing on corrupt machinations of fellow politicos, brands them as criminals. The system is connived so that the thugs in power will only let "the kind of crook they can work with" get in!


It sounds like you are describing the behavior of many religions and their power hungry leaders.

Coincidence? I think not.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 01, 2014
Power can certainly be corrupting, but not all are susceptible.
Having real, but limited authority, responsibility and accountability early in life aids an individual to appreciate the limits of power.
George Washington will always be the best president the USA ever had because he refused to serve a third and possibly unlimited term.
FDR would be the worst for refusing to follow the lead of Washington and step down after two terms.
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 01, 2014
Kennedy's are corrupt:

"I do, however, believe that corporations which deliberately, purposefully, maliciously and systematically sponsor climate lies should be given the death penalty. "
http://www.huffin...ef=green

How about govts that deliberately, purposefully, maliciously and systematically sponsor climate lies to acquire power?
NOM
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 01, 2014
Rygtard, do you have some sort of disorder that you must get off topic. When the topic is anything, you manage to bring in your retarded view of politics. But this thread is already on your favourite subject, yet you try and drag it into AGW.
Troll.
BaconBits
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 01, 2014
@Ryg You do seem to illustrate the notion that ideology is a blinding force that overwhelms reason and rationality. Of course there are examples of socialist minded leaders who were effective and served their duties admirably, as there are examples of libertarian minded leaders who did the same.

This article confirms a body of work that's been done to show that however someone was raised, or what belief system they hold or the measure of their character there are circumstances they can be put in where they will lie, cheat, steal, punitively punish or act unethically and we can't rely on their character alone to ensure they use their power justly. We need strong social institutions and fairly applied rule of law to ensure power is used well.

Humans are fallible and predisposed to self delusion. As you tend to illustrate over and over and over again with your posts on AGW.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 01, 2014
We need strong social institutions and fairly applied rule of law to ensure power is used well.

That's why the US Constitution was designed over 200 years ago to limit power.
Socialists have gleefully gutted that Constitution beginning in earnest with the 16th and 17th amendments and completely ignoring the 9th and 10th amendments.

SkyAbove
2 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2014
This is yet another studying showing the inherent failure of human leaders. The solution is obvious – don't have any! Using computers and algorithms we can easily implement direct democracy at all levels of human organization: governments, businesses, services, institutions and etc.
Goika
Oct 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 01, 2014
Direct democracy?
In a direct democracy the majority can kill, enslave, ....the minority.
"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
"Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith."

Alexis de Tocqueville"

ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (8) Oct 02, 2014
The Obama regime has been corrupt from the beginning:

"President Barack Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and Secretary of State John Kerry are directly responsible for allowing Ebola into the United States,"
"The government has put Ebola on the list of "banned diseases" but hasn't taken any steps to put together a screening process or bar immigration from Ebola-stricken nations into the U.S."
http://www.breitb...Into-U-S
COCO
1 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2014
Barry is like a shining god of peace to the ROW - wake up and feel the successes.
better_failling
1 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2014
In fact what they proved is not as much that 'power' corrupts but rather that almost everybody tends to become a dictator if not kept in check by those around him.
Not at all the same thing.
http://nicichiara...-people/

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