Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Power, hierarchy and social preferences

Bosco, Luigi (2008): Power, hierarchy and social preferences.

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Abstract

I ran an experiment in order to evaluate the relationship, if any, between power, or the search for power, and the degree of altruism. In particular I experimentally tested whether an organization structured in a strictly hierarchical way was able to reduce the degree of altruism of a group of experimental subjects. The subjects were divided into groups and played a series of dictator and ultimatum games with the members of other groups; for each experimental euro that they earned, the experimenter assigned half of it to the group. Two different settings were analyzed according to how this group surplus was distributed among group members. In the control setting (treatment A) the group surplus was distributed equally among group members, while in the power setting (treatment B) there was a ranking of the earnings in the group, and the subject who earned the higher sum was given the power to decide the distribution scheme of the group different from her own. It was found that the introduction of a hierarchical structure generated a significant decrease in the rate of altruism, measured in terms of the allocation given to the receiver in the dictator game. In this case the tournament among group members for leadership and the competition for power was a very strong means to induce behaviour more in line with the classical assumption of economics. A remarkable gender effect emerges, suggesting that women seem less attracted and trapped by competition for power.

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