How power affects moral judgments: The role of intuitive thinking

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Mufan Zheng
Ana Guinote
Cite this article:  Zheng, M., & Guinote, A. (2022). How power affects moral judgments: The role of intuitive thinking. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 50(3), e10968.


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Power affects how people think about moral issues, and has been found to elicit deontological moral judgments. We hypothesized that powerholders’ propensity to rely on intuitive thinking would trigger deontological moral choices. In two studies, power was induced by role simulation tasks and participants then made a judgment on a moral dilemma that did not involve bodily harm. In Study 1 memory cognitive load was manipulated to induce an intuitive processing style, and in Study 2 deliberation was induced by asking participants to deliver strong arguments. Results of Study 1 show that high power led to deontological judgments regardless of cognitive load, and cognitive load enhanced deontological preferences among powerless individuals. In Study 2 we found that deliberation shifted the judgments of powerholders toward utilitarianism. These results extend prior findings and reinforce the links between power and deontology. The findings suggest that powerholders’ preference for deontological moral judgments is driven by their reliance on intuitive thinking.

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