How Power Increases Hypocrisy

Dan Ariely sums up a study that tells us what we already know:

[Researchers] simulated a bureaucratic organization and randomly assigned participants to be in a high-power role (prime-minister) or low-power role (civil servant). ... Next, the researchers presented all participants with a seemingly unrelated moral dilemma from among the following: failure to declare all wages on a tax form, violation of traffic rules, and possession of a stolen bike. In each case, participants used a 9-point scale (1: completely unacceptable, 9: fully acceptable) to rate the acceptability of the act. However, half of the participants rated how acceptable it would be if they themselves engaged in the act, while the other half rated how acceptable it would be others engaged in it.

The researchers found that compared to participants without power, powerful participants were stricter in judging others’ moral transgressions but more lenient in judging their own: “power increases hypocrisy, meaning that the powerful show a greater discrepancy between what they practice and what they preach.”

Think Cheney's response to committing war crimes; or Wall Street's response to their gaming the system for absurd amounts of money; or the Pope's long indifference to the rape of children; or the British members of parliament abusing their expense accounts. Power corrupts. Always has. Which is why we need more assholes in the press and fewer people, like Mike Allen, annotating and revering every word that drops from the platters of the connected and the powerful.