Power Decreases Trust in Social Exchange

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 112(42), 12950-12955 (2015)

12 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2017

See all articles by Oliver Schilke

Oliver Schilke

University of Arizona

Martin Reimann

University of Southern California

Karen S. Cook

Stanford University - Department of Sociology

Date Written: November 11, 2015

Abstract

How does lacking vs. possessing power in a social exchange affect people’s trust in their exchange partner? An answer to this question has broad implications for a number of exchange settings in which dependence plays an important role. Here, we report on a series of experiments in which we manipulated participants’ power position in terms of structural dependence and observed their trust perceptions and behaviors. Over a variety of different experimental paradigms and measures, we find that more powerful actors place less trust in others than less powerful actors do. Our results contradict predictions by rational actor models, which assume that low-power individuals are able to anticipate that a more powerful exchange partner will place little value on the relationship with them, thus tends to behave opportunistically, and consequently cannot be trusted. Conversely, our results support predictions by motivated cognition theory, which posits that low-power individuals want their exchange partner to be trustworthy and then act according to that desire. Mediation analyses show that, consistent with the motivated cognition account, having low power increases individuals’ hope and, in turn, their perceptions of their exchange partners’ benevolence, which ultimately leads them to trust.

Keywords: trust, power, social exchange, dependence, hope

Suggested Citation

Schilke, Oliver and Reimann, Martin and Cook, Karen S., Power Decreases Trust in Social Exchange (November 11, 2015). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 112(42), 12950-12955 (2015), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3069613

Oliver Schilke (Contact Author)

University of Arizona ( email )

1130 E. Helen St.
McClelland Hall
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Martin Reimann

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Karen S. Cook

Stanford University - Department of Sociology ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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