POWER AND STATUS IN JUDGING AND PUNISHING IMMORALITY
Lucas, Jeffrey W.
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This research offers a framework that explains how observers respond to moral violations when considering the amount of power and status held by violators. It follows the group processes literature on the characteristics of power and status. A proposed theory describes that prior to witnessing moral violations, observers develop moral expectations about potential violators on the basis of the levels of power and status attributed to the violators. When the moral violations occur, the moral expectations about the violators, as well as the resources available to the violators, in turn, affect the judgment and punishment decisions of the observers toward the violators. An online vignette study and a laboratory experiment test my predictions based on the proposed theory by varying the relative levels of perceived power and status between evaluation targets (i.e., violators) and evaluators (i.e., observers). Vignettes used in Study 1 described that observers had lower, equal, or higher power/status compared to violators in hypothetical scenarios. In Study 2, observers were assigned with either lower or higher power/status relative to violators in a group interaction setting in which the observers experienced differential risks of retaliation from the violators. Both studies assessed expectations of observers about the moral character of potential violators before exposing the observers to details of a moral violation committed by the designated violators. Punishment decisions of observers examined in Study 1 were attitudinal measures while those in Study 2 were based on behavioral reactions. Results indicate that prior to the immoral incident, observers developed lower moral expectations about violators with greater power and higher moral expectations about violators holding greater status. However, these expectations did not always translate into moral judgment and punishment. While viewing the violation as immoral regardless of power/status held by the violators, depending on the context, observers might or might not penalize the violators differentially across the power/status spectra. Fears of retaliation from violators who utilized resources attached to varied power and status positions did not affect how observers punished the violators. Therefore, results of the studies suggest a resilient power and status hierarchy despite the disruption of moral norms.