Why leaders punish: A power perspective

Marlon Mooijman*, Wilco W. Van Dijk, Naomi Ellemers, Eric Van Dijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


We propose that power fundamentally changes why leaders punish and we develop a theoretical model that specifies how and why this occurs. Specifically, we argue that power increases the reliance on deterrence, but not just deserts, as a punishment motive and relate this to power fostering a distrustful mindset. We tested our model in 9 studies using different instantiations of power, different measurements and manipulations of distrust while measuring punishment motives and recommended punishments across a number of different situations. These 9 studies demonstrate that power fosters distrust and hereby increases both the reliance on deterrence as a punishment motive and the implementation of punishments aimed at deterrence (i.e., public punishments, public naming of rule breakers and punishments with a mandatory minimum). We discuss the practical implications for leaders, managers and policymakers and the theoretical implications for scholars interested in power, trust, and punishments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-89
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Deterrence
  • Distrust
  • Just deserts
  • Power
  • Punishment motives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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