Power + Time = Doing Good

How a sense of power increases a sense of responsibility.
Power + Time = Doing Good
DOES POWER CORRUPT? Maybe, but people who possess power—defined as the ability to control the behavior or experiences of others in contexts great or small—also feel a sense of responsibility toward future generations.

That finding is part of new research from Kimberly Wade-Benzoni, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina; Leigh Plunkett Tost, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor; and Hana Huang Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho’s College of Business and Economics.

The team performed a series of studies. One involved 222 participants, half of whom were asked to write about a time they experienced power over others. A subsequent survey found members of that group more likely to allocate charitable donations to a cause with long-term benefits than to one addressing an immediate need. The participants who did not write about power were no more likely to donate to either type of cause.

In another study, half of the 465 participants completed the same writing; they were allowed to allocate a potential US$1,000 bonus in one of four ways. They either could take the $1,000 now, receive a greater amount in the future, give it to another participant now, or give a greater amount to that participant in the future. Those who were asked to recall an experience of power were more likely to defer the bonus to someone else in the future.

These findings show that it may be possible for organizations to make leaders think more about the long-term impact of their decisions, says Wade-Benzoni, simply by highlighting how they “have the power to shape not only their current performance, but also the performance and outcomes of the generations to come.”

“Noblesse Oblige Emerges (with Time): Power Enhances Intergenerational Beneficence” was published in the May 2015 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.