Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Neuronarrative: Power Makes the Hypocrite Bolder and Smugger

hypocrisy, not hiporcrisy; hypocrite, not hipo...
The uncomfortable nexus of power and hypocrisy.  Uncomfortable for me.  Contemplating the shakiness of my position could help.

Neuronarrative: Power Makes the Hypocrite Bolder and Smugger: "

Five experiments followed in which researchers examined the impact of power on the moral hypocrisy of the participants. They found a consistent and alarming outcome: those assigned to the ‘high-power’ group repeatedly condemned moral failures of others while committing unethical acts themselves. In one experiment, high-power participants were asked for their positions on cheating and over-reporting travel expenses, both of which they flatly condemned. They and the low-power group were then asked to play a dice game alone, in a private cubicle, to win lottery tickets. The powerful reported significantly higher lottery winnings than the low-power group, even though both groups had the same odds of winning.

Researchers also examined the degree to which the powerful accept their transgressions versus those committed by others. Across the board, they found that people in the high-power group strongly condemned such things as cheating, under-reporting taxes and keeping stolen property, while finding ways to rationalize committing the same actions themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this study addressed whether the nature of power affected the level of hypocrisy. When participants in high-power roles were separated into those with legitimate power versus those with ‘shaky’ power (in other words, a level of power the individual did not believe he or she merited), researchers found that the legitimate power group consistently displayed more hypocrisy. People in the shaky power group, in contrast, were actually harder on themselves, in a way similar to those in the low-power group. Researchers labeled this outcome “hypercrisy.”


...the study produced interesting results that provide yet more reasons to be skeptical of those in power with a taste for moralizing.



Very nice write-up in the Jan 21st 2010 Economist of this very study by Joris Lammers at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University, in Illinois.


The Arch at Northwestern's Evanston campusImage via Wikipedia
( original study described at http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/News_Articles/2009/galinsky_research.aspx )

But the Economist article ends strangely:
[...] Hypercrisy might thus be a signal of submissiveness—one that is exaggerated in creatures that feel themselves to be in the wrong place in the hierarchy. By applying reverse privileges to themselves, they hope to escape punishment from the real dominants. Perhaps the lesson, then, is that corruption and hypocrisy are the price that societies pay for being led by alpha males (and, in some cases, alpha females). The alternative, though cleaner, is leadership by wimps.
The wording "leadership by wimps" was meant to be read with a "wink", but is indicative of flawed reasoning if one is concerned with a quality of how a competitive organization is managed.

(Firstly, the concept of "alpha males/alpha females" in biology rarely translates into human hierarchies.  "Alpha males" must *always* be vigilant to challenges from any aggressor at any time, with tragic consequences if the alpha male loses - his own offspring may be killed by the new alpha.  In human hierarchies, there are far too many safeguards to the incumbents to make the stakes high enough for those incumbents to earn the title "alpha".  It is pure puffery, in common usage.)

For this discussion, consider "hypocrisy" as "high ranking individuals held to a less rigorous moral standard, low ranking individuals held to a more rigorous moral standard".  Consider "hypercrisy" as the opposite - "high ranking individuals held to a more rigorous moral standard, low ranking individuals held to a less rigorous moral standard".  How will this play out between different competitive organization characterized by differing levels of "hypocrisy" and "hypercrisy"?

Bandage of Faith, 2009, 50x40, oil on canvas b...Image via Wikipedia
The stress of "hypocrisy" throughout an organization can lead individuals to defensively take on the attitude of cynicism.  Below the highest rankings, the organization is characterized by cynical workers.  These cynical workers will then offer only a fraction of their value to the organization.  And the organization will strain to compete.
On the other hand, "hypocrisy" can be a unspoken bonus to high performing individuals at the upper ranking of an organization.  This bonus can attract and retain the high performers, to the benefit of the organization as a whole.

Benefits to the high performers that stress the organization as a whole should attract a critical eye.  Better to choose a different compensation, to avoid an organization permeated by cracks of social-psychic stress.

"Hypercrisy" along with commensurate compensation of high performers would seem to be optimal.  How to do this?

Do this by fostering through the organization a spirit of:
  • High position carries the discipline of high moral rigor and consequence for transgressions
  • High position carries the discipline of awe and humility before the scope of the collective responsibility
  • High position carries the discipline of awareness of the possibility of a reversal of fortune, and the philosophic outlook that is consistent with high effectiveness in the face of grave risk
So...  Why the comment about "hypocrisy tolerated so rule by wimps avoided"?  Probably because The Economist caters to a Conservative audience, and Conservatives have a bug-a-boo about the charge of hypocrisy.

Himachal Pradesh 1999Image by Akira ASKR via Flickr
And it is a shame, about Modern So-Called Conservatism and Modern So-Called Progressivism.  The Self-Called Conservatives want elites to be shielded from the consequences of their own moral transgressions, and the Self-Called Progressives want the lower classes to be shielded from the consequences of their own moral transgressions.  It is a race to the bottom, and functioning society suffers.
A Neo-Confucianist in the mold of Wang Yangming would lead people from the power of his own elevated moral stature and discipline.  Shame for the degeneracy of our own time and place.

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