NEW YORK – Scientists have shown that even the most noble lose sight of their values when handed the right to govern.
A series of experiments found that once honest people had tasted power, they couldn’t resist rewarding themselves at the expense of others.
After undergoing psychological testing to measure individual differences, including honesty, the volunteers played the ‘dictator game’.
In the game, they were given complete control over deciding pay outs to themselves and their followers.
The leaders had the choice of making pro or anti-social decisions – the latter resulting in awarding less money to the group but more to the leader’s own earnings.
The findings showed those rated as less honest at first exhibited more corrupt behaviour.
But, over time, even those who initially scored high on honesty scales were not shielded from the corruptive effects of power.
In the study, the leader was given a pot of money and allowed to divide it how they liked. The more they took out for themselves, the less was left for their followers.
‘The results were clear. Power corrupts. When given more followers and more choices, the leader was more likely to make an anti social decision,’ Professor Antonakis said.
‘In a way, power is to leaders what taste is to vampires. Once they get a taste of it, they cannot let go. The more followers they had, the more corrupt they became.’
The participants were also given saliva tests which showed anti-social decisions were highest among those with the highest levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone.
‘What we observed was real corruption using real stakes. For instance, some participants walked out of the lab with about $100 (£60) in payouts,’ Professor Antonakis said.
‘They knew if they profited they would harm the public good.’
‘We think strong governance mechanisms and strong institutions are the key to keeping leaders in check,’ he added.
‘Organisations should limit how much leaders can drink from the seductive chalice of power.’