ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2013, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (11): 1274-1282.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2013.01274

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How Power Influences Moral Judgement: The Effect of Situational Involvement

ZHENG Mufan;ZHAO Junhua   

  1. (Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China)
  • Received:2013-03-07 Published:2013-11-25 Online:2013-11-25
  • Contact: ZHAO Junhua


Previous studies found that when subjects were given a moral dilemma to resolve, high-power participants prefer Rule-based Judgment, while low-power participants prefer Outcome-based Judgement. Lammers and Stapel (2009)attributed this to the benefits attained or retained from the type of judgment, but they did not conduct further research to explain why power-holders felt their benefits were threatened. According to the Evolution of Moral Mechanisms (Krebs 2005), situational involvement connects the power-holders with the moral dilemma story, and compels them to choose the moral judgment that would be advantageous for themselves. Four studies were conducted to explore the relationship between a power-holders’ moral dilemma judgment and situational involvement. Experiment 1 used a disorder sentence task to prime power feelings, and the results showed that the factor of protagonist was not significant as a main effect (F(1,107)=0.38, p=0.54), nor did it interact significantly with the factor of power (F(1,107)=2.27, p=0.14), and no main effect of power (F(1,107)=0.07, p=0.79). In light of moral evolutionary perspectives, we speculate that participants may need more situational priming to elicit their feeling of power, so this paper strengthened the relationship between the moral event and self-experience, and made the priming task more situationalized in experiment 2. Therefore, the differences of moral judgment styles between high and low-power participants disappeared (t(58)=0.56, p=0.58). Furthermore, in experiment 3 and 4, the different situation exposure to moral events can bring different moral judgments among high power participants (t(60)=-4.30, p<0.001), even in natural power conditions without artificial power priming task before presenting moral events. In brief, situational involvement considerably influences the power holders’ moral judgments. When the power holders were presented with a moral dilemma event in which they had personally experienced it, they would shift their moral judgment style from rule-based to outcome-based, which demonstrates that moral judgment is a biological adaptive strategy to a person’s environment.

Key words: power, moral judgements, situational involvement, rule-based, outcome-based