Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Powerful or Powerless When Change Is Needed: Effects of Power on Escalation of Commitment

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Powerful or Powerless When Change Is Needed: Effects of Power on Escalation of Commitment

Article excerpt

We investigated how either lack or possession of power affects the individual's escalation of commitment (EOC), that is, the decision to continue the original course of action when confronted with negative feedback. We differentiated the motivational and cognitive approaches to EOC, and argued that both lacking power (being powerless) and possessing power (being powerful) would intensify the effects of these two approaches so that high-power individuals and low-power individuals would be more prone to EOC than were those with a moderate degree of power. We conducted two studies with university students as participants. We used different measures of EOC; in the first study we measured general sense of power and in the second we primed power. In both studies results showed that there was a quadratic relationship between power and EOC. The implications for the research on EOC, de-escalation, and power are discussed.

Keywords: power, escalation of commitment, self-justification, personal responsibility, subjective expected utility.

Findings in research on escalation of commitment (EOC) have shown that decision makers tend to continue on a course of action when the performance expectation is unmet and the goal attainment is uncertain (Bowen, 1987; Staw, 1976, 1981). Persisting with a course of action that is not succeeding, even when it is economically irrational, sometimes results in disastrous outcomes (see e.g., Ross & Staw, 1993). As Sleesman, Conlon, McNamara, and Miles (2012) pointed out in their meta-analysis, most researchers on the phenomenon of EOC have focused on project and psychological determinants. Supporting their call to advance the understanding of EOC by the inclusion of social and structural determinants, researchers have shown that the escalation commitment decision relates to factors such as public justification (Mahlendorf & Wallenburg, 2013).

In this paper, we proposed power as a determinant of individuals' decision making in an escalation situation. Power is commonly defined as the capability to influence others and resist their influence through the ability to control resources and administer rewards and punishments (Anderson & Galinsky, 2006). An individual's personal sense of power is "the perception of one's ability to influence another person or other people" (Anderson, John, & Keltner, 2012, p. 316). It has effects similar to those of manipulated power, and mediates the effects of assigned power (Anderson & Berdahl, 2002; Côté et al., 2011). The salience and effects of personal sense of power may be intensified by the threat of negative performance feedback. Power is seen as a psychological attribute as well as an attribute of social relationships (Anderson et al., 2012; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003; Maner, Gailliot, Butz, & Peruche, 2007). Therefore, we expected that investigating how power affects EOC would provide insight into the integration of EOC theories. Researchers have suggested that power may affect the tendency of individuals to escalate their commitment through multiple mechanisms. For example, powerful (high-power) individuals are more likely to discount negative feedback than are powerless (low-power) individuals (Cho & Fast, 2012), and individuals with a positive self-concept tend to believe that they can overcome the negative aspects of a situation (Staw & Fox, 1977).

Despite the theoretical interest and indirect evidence, there is still a lack of exploration of the relationship between power and EOC. The objective of our research, therefore, was to investigate whether or not, and if so how, individuals with or without power behave differently in an EOC situation. We delineated how power affects the salience of motivational and cognitive approaches in an EOC situation, and then conducted two studies in which we tested the prediction that both having high power and having low power lead to greater EOC than does having moderate power. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.