From the Immoral to the Incorruptible: How Prescriptive Expectations Turn the Powerful Into Paragons of Virtue

Miao Hu*, Derek Rucker, Adam D. Galinsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Ample evidence documents that power increases unethical behavior. This article introduces a new theoretical framework for understanding when power leads to more versus less unethical behavior. Our key proposition is that people hold expectations about power that are both descriptive (how the powerful do behave) and prescriptive (how the powerful should behave). People hold descriptive beliefs that the powerful do behave more unethically than the powerless, but they hold prescriptive beliefs that the powerful should behave more ethically than the powerless. Whichever expectation—descriptive or prescriptive—is salient affects how power influences one’s behavior. Three experiments demonstrate that activating descriptive expectations for power leads the powerful to cheat more than the powerless, whereas activating prescriptive expectations leads the powerful to cheat less than the powerless. The current work offers new ideas for curbing unethical behavior by those with power: focus their attention on prescriptive expectations for power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)826-837
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume42
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Keywords

  • descriptive and prescriptive expectations
  • power
  • unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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