Social Power and Morality by Michael Lewis via Dan Ariely

I like the work of Dan Ariely and also of Michael Lewis and so this story really appealed to me as it shows in a social psychology experiment how our self appointed elite feels entitled to simply take a disproportionate share of economic output, in this case a cookie. Dan Ariely sent me the story and best of all you can watch Michael Lewis deliver it on You Tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiQ_T5C3hIM&list=UUcBYSgQTxc126-lj_gdrO8Q&index=1&feature=plcp

The following is taken from the graduation speech of Michael Lewis at Princeton in 2012. In it, he discusses an experiment that explores the relationship between power and morality.“…… a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.”—–We’ve probably all heard the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Well, there is a great deal of research concerning the link between social power and morality, and most of it suggests that absolute power is not required to change people’s morals; sadly it tends to show that more power leads to less care for others, and less moral behavior

Michael: see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Lewis


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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, Economic Conflict, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Social Power and Morality by Michael Lewis via Dan Ariely

  1. Kyrie Eleison says:

    This is as fantastic as it is succinct – it illustrates an important point without getting unnecessarily complicated or unwieldy. Thank you.

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