ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (1): 55-65.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00055

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The pursuit of fame at the expense of profit: The influence of power motive and social presence on prosocial behavior

WANG Jianfeng(),DAI Bing()   

  1. Sichuan Research Center for Applied Psychology, Chengdu 610500, China
  • Received:2019-06-19 Published:2020-01-25 Online:2019-11-21
  • Contact: Jianfeng WANG,Bing DAI;
  • Supported by:


Power motive often aims at status and superiority and has been associated with antisocial decision-making, dehumanization of others, infidelity, and aggressive behaviors. In light of such findings, it is not surprising that the power motive has acquired a bad reputation. However, there is also a benevolent, prosocial side to power that has not received equal attention. From the beginning, researchers have emphasized the dual nature of power motive: people realize their power motive in either an antisocial or a prosocial direction. Although the stereotypical picture associated with power implicates a kind of offensively aggressive and imperious behavior, such behavior is unlikely to result in sustainable strategic condition beneficial to attaining and maintaining dominance, and cannot typically characterize individuals mainly driven by power motive. Instead of self-serving or egotistical actions, behavioral strategies in a socially preferable manner would advantage power motivated individuals to achieve the ultimate goal. On the contrary, egocentric behavioral strategies can impress other individuals with antisocial characters, such as imprudence and arbitrariness. 
Research has shown that social presence (e.g., a subtle cue of being watched) has a significant influence on individuals’ behavior in social dilemmas. Specifically, it has been observed that individuals’ tendency to engage in prosocial behavior increases when acting under conditions of a social presence. With respect to social presence, reputation has been discussed as a critical factor determining individuals’ tendency to contribute to a public good and to behave prosocially. The relevant argument holds that individuals are willing to invest private resources under conditions where they can expect to build a positive reputation that may be beneficial in (future) social interactions involving indirect reciprocity. For example, research has demonstrated the status benefits of selfless behavior. Individuals pursue status by enhancing the apparent value they provide to their group and compete for status not by bullying and intimidating others, but by behaving in ways that suggest high levels of competence, generosity, and commitment to the group. This seemingly selfless behavior leads to them being perceived as more generous in their groups and, in turn, leads to a higher status and a good reputation. Therefore, individuals who sought reputation and status attained them by acting strategically prosocially.
The present work builds on previous research on social presence and reputation and addresses the question of whether the effect of power motive on prosocial behavior is dependent on social presence. In essence, the current work put the assumption to the test that, under conditions where a subtle cue of being watched (study 1) or public situation (study 2) render reputational concerns salient, individuals are more likely to act in fairness (study 1) or cooperation (study 2) if they have a higher level of power motive. In contrast, under anonymous conditions, individuals’ power motive should not be related to fair and cooperative behaviors. The results confirmed our hypothesis that under conditions where a subtle cue of being watched or in a public situation, high power motive individuals, relative to low power motive participants, allocated more money to interactive partners in the ultimatum game and provided higher provision levels of public goods in the public good game. On the contrary, under anonymous conditions, no significant relationship was found between individuals’ power motive and fair and cooperative behaviors.
The results suggest that people with high power motive also exhibit prosocial behaviors in consideration of strategies of reputation and status. The present work demonstrates that power motive can play a critical role in social dilemma situations. Moreover, the findings emphasize that one must take the specificity of a situation into account (particularly, whether social presence as a situational factor influences individuals’ decisions) in order to explain individuals’ behavior in dilemma situations.

Key words: power motive, social presence, reputation, fairness, cooperation, prosocial behavior

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