The 1% Do Not Appreciate Your Favors
January 28, 2012 1 Comment
The economic debate on inequality largely focuses on the question of economic mobility: Does rising inequality make it harder for families to move up in society?
Now a new study on power by M. Ena Inesi, Deborah Gruenfeld, and Adam Galinsky may hint at another socio-economic consequence of inequality. Through a series of experiments the researchers discovered new evidence that a gap in power can make people respond to a favor with thoughts about ulterior motives.
Five studies explored whether power undermines the quality of relationships by creating instrumental attributions for generous acts. We predicted that this cynical view of others’ intentions would impede responses that nurture healthy relationships. In the first three studies, the powerful were more likely to believe that the favors they received were offered for the favor-giver’s instrumental purposes, thereby reducing power-holders’ thankfulness, desire to reciprocate, and trust. These effects emerged when power was manipulated through hierarchical roles or primed semantically, and when participants recalled past favors or imagined future ones. Using income disparity as a proxy for power, Study 4 found that instrumental attributions for favors in marriages led to lower levels of relationship commitment among high-power spouses. Study 5 provided evidence that favors are critical in triggering power-holders’ diminished trust.
Favors involving power gaps are more likely to have less reciprocity, trust, and all that other good stuff that comes from productive human interaction. Assuming that gaps in power are highly correlated with gaps in money, it means the make-up of an income distribution can have a direct effect on the level of altruism in a society. If inequality in its current form is causing more favors to involve high power gaps, it may be decreasing our level of altruism. That would be bad for business. Of course it’s also possible that rising inequality has decreased the number of favors with a significant power gap.
On another note, bonus points to the authors for working a quote from Gary Coleman’s will into their discussion.
Inese, M.E., Gruenfeld, D.H, and Galinsky, A.D. (2012). How Power Corrupts Relationships: Cynical Attributions for Others’ Generous Acts Journal of Experimental Social Psychology