Why Do Powerful People Cheat?
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a secret 13-year-old love child by his housekeeper. International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is cooling in a prison cell after allegations he raped a hotel maid.
It’s nothing new to us. We’ve weathered the media storms of John Ensign, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and a host of other famous men. We marvel at the nerve of these guys, the sheer audacity to ignore the fact that everyone, eventually, gets caught if they cheat. Despite this ever-looping soundtrack of scandal, the questions come up over and over in the media, in the office lounge, and at home…
They seem to have everything, so why do powerful men cheat?
Researchers Joris Lammers, Diederik Stapel and Adam Galinsky ran a variety of experiments to see if those even temporarily placed in a position of authority would become moral hypocrites. Just how quickly would powerful people opt out of the rules the rest of us have to follow in our daily lives?
Not only did subjects given a higher level of perceived power think it was okay to break from societal norms, they more readily believed they had excuses for such behavior. Researchers also discovered that the higher a person was placed over overs, the more likely they felt a right to voice opinions related to morality – even if those statements contradicted their own behavior.
In other words, people given positions of power thought it was okay to tell others what to do (and what not to do,) but had no problems breaking these rules themselves. They found that the empowered subjects of their experiments eventually thought it was okay to lie, cheat and steal, as long as it got them what they wanted.
Here’s the kicker — it didn’t matter whether those in power were men or women.
A more recent survey, also conducted by Lammers, questioned 1,561 people as to the likelihood they would cheat on their spouse. The survey underscored earlier work, in showing that the greater the level of power and confidence a respondent had in their personal life, the more likely he or she would cheat on their spouse. Again, men and women in positions of power were equally likely to take a secret, sexual detour.
So what is it about having a position of power that makes us so much more likely to cheat? The answers lie in Lammers’ earlier work.Continued on the next page