Study: To Prevent Abuse of Power, Focus on Procedure, Not Results
If there's one thing that unites the good guys in movies and TV shows, it's a hatred of "procedure"—those legal niceties that get the bad guys out of jail and prevent the hero from finding the bomb in time. Who cares about regulations? Results are what matters. And it's not, of course, a sentiment confined to screenplays: Any news about terrorism or potential terrorism is followed by the cawing of pols and pundits trying to sound like Dirty Harry. Keep Guantanamo open! Don't stop water-boarding! Don't read Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his rights! Be glad the NSA is secretly monitoring everyone's phone calls! This is war—no time to be worrying about crossing t's and dotting i's! It's an easy message to sell in a fearful time (those movies primed us well for it). But according to this study in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, it encourages abuses of power.
In a trio of experiments, the authors, Marko Pitesa of Grenoble's Ecole de Management and Stefan Thau of the London Business School, found that people who expected to be judged on the results of their decisions were far more likely to abuse the trust placed in them than were people who expected to be judged on the procedures they used to decide.
In one experiment, for example, they organized 61 male and 43 female undergraduates (presumably from Grenoble) into six-person groups, in which some were informed that they would be "in charge" and others told they would be expected to "work with others." While they waited for their teammates to arrive, each student was given a task, supposedly to fill the time. The task (which was in fact the real experiment) was to manage the money their group would receive for being a part of the experiment (five euros per person). Whatever they "invested," they were told, had a 50 percent chance of doubling and a 50 percent chance of disappearing. So each person's decision would determine how much fellow team members would receive. Moreover, the investor would get a 20 percent "investor's fee" on any profit from the decision. Best part: Each person, though deciding for others, was immune to risk—his or her own five euros wouldn't be in play. The idea was to duplicate the situation of a financial agent handling other people's money but not risking his own.
The rest of the experimental design cleverly combined a psychological question and an institutional one. Remember that some of the volunteers had been told they would be in charge, while others learned they were to be worker bees. This created two types of "investor"—those who were told they had power in the lab and those who were told they did not. Pitesa and Thau expected that the people who felt more powerful would be more reckless with other people's money.
However, the experimenters also wanted to test how this psychology of power interacts with different kinds of institutional safeguards. So before the task, they told some volunteers that they would be expected to explain to teammates how they had made their decision. Others were told they would have to focus on the good or bad results.
As you might expect, feelings of power made people more willing to take risks that might hurt others: the "bosses" were willing to gamble more of their teammates' money than were the non-bosses. But the difference between bosses and peons was not that great. Much more impressive was the effect of the two different forms of accountability. Those who expected to describe their decision-making process risked a great deal less money than those who expected to be judged on outcome. (Specifically, the "bosses" who focussed on possible results invested an average of €14.62 of other people's money, while those who instead focussed on procedure invested a mere €5.08 on average. )
The authors also got similar results in an online experiment with 63 lawyers (those who described themselves as powerful were more willing to recommend a risky investment than were those who felt less so, and those who had to account for their decision-making process were far less likely to gamble with others' fates than were those who knew they would be accountable for results).
The theoretical argument here is an attempt to move the theory of abuse of power away from a rationalist model, in which all people are expected to behave in the same way. (The conventional wisdom in the field, according to Pitesa and Thau, is that, like rational robots, we all try to get away with as much as we can, and that we are kept in check by rules that make it too costly to cheat others. They wanted to explore why some people cheat more than others in the same situation, and why some safeguards work better than others, even though the costs they impose are the same.)
You needn't be into those theoretical questions, though, to find the study rather haunting, given this week's news. Its first take-away here is that, as us non-bosses have suspected for millennia, power inclines people to do what they want, with less-than-average concern about how their decisions will affect others. And the second take-away is that if you want to inhibit this recklessness, don't focus on results. Focus on procedure. Or, to extrapolate (I think reasonably): If we judge powerful people by their results (like, oh, number of terror attacks prevented) they will behave more self-servingly more often than if you judge them by their procedures (as in, oh, is this actually constitutional?).
Illustration: 1940s-era anti-blabbing poster, from the Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services. Via Wikimedia
Follow me on Twitter: @davidberreby
Pitesa, M., & Thau, S. (2013). Masters of the universe: How power and accountability influence self-serving decisions under moral hazard. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98 (3), 550-558 DOI: 10.1037/a0031697
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
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Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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