Power Increases Responsibility, Generosity toward Future Generations

Leigh Plunkett Tost

Leigh Plunkett Tost

Power can increase future perspective, feelings of social responsibility, and intergenerational generosity toward others, according to University of Michigan’s Leigh Plunkett Tost, Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni of Duke University, and University of Idaho’s Hana Huang Johnson.

Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg

Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg and Pricilla Chan’s sizeable gift of Facebook stock on the occasion of their daughter’s birth is a recent example.

Katherine DeCelles

Katherine DeCelles

This finding contrasts previous reports that power tends to cause people to act in more self-interested ways with peers, particularly “in the presence of a weak moral identity,” according to University of Toronto’s Katherine DeCelles, D. Scott DeRue of University of Michigan, Harvard’s Joshua Margolis, and Tara L. Ceranic of University of San Diego.

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Focusing on previous power experiences also was linked with a longer-term time perspective among more than 110 participants who wrote about a time they experienced power over others.
Volunteers in studies by Tost’s group reported greater willingness to allocate charitable donations to a cause with long-term benefits than one addressing an immediate need, compared with a matched group that didn’t write about a previous power experience.

Hana Huang Johnson

Hana Huang Johnson

In another task, more than 230 volunteers also wrote a power prime, then chose between allocating a $1,000 bonus to themselves or another participant now or a larger amount in the future.
Participants who recalled a power experience were more likely to allocate a greater future bonus to themselves and someone else.

Scott DeRue

Scott DeRue

Tost’s team suggested that people with intergenerational power typically feel responsible for ensuring others’ long-term interests, manifested in generous behavior to younger generations.
DeCelles’ findings suggest that moral identity may interact with intergenerational relations to influence people to act with less self-interest and greater altruism.

Joshua Margolis

Joshua Margolis

In additional studies, more than 160 participants were randomly assigned to influence tasks that other group members performed.
The controlling participants reported greater willingness to allocate more future lottery winnings to another group member compare with volunteers who did not control others’ assignments.

Sonya Lyubomirsky

Sonya Lyubomirsky

Many of these paradoxes of generosity and altruism are investigated through University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity initiative.
One promising project is led by University of California, Riverside’s Sonya Lyubomirsky, who explored “the how” and “myths” of happiness.

She currently investigates “ripple” and contagion effects of generosity propagation in work settings, and argues that performing generous acts makes the giver, receiver, connector, and observer happier.
In addition, she posits that workplace generosity promotes a positive workplace climate.

Tara Ceranic

Tara Ceranic

Feelings of power seem to invoke a sense of responsibility to ensure and enable others’ interests.
This insight can benefit non-profit organizations seeking increased donations by highlighting that those with decision-making authority have the power to shape the performance and outcomes of the generations to come.

-*To what extent do those with organizational power demonstrate a longer time perspective and willingness to enable the next generation’s well-being?

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Related Posts:

Previous blog posts have outlined the varied positive effects of focusing on previous power experiences, and on time perspective’s relationship with investment choices.

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