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Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management

Adam Galinsky

Protecting the powerful

In response to the Blagojevich trial, Adam Galinsky explores the relationship between power, ethics and punishment


8/31/2010 - Recent scandals involving high-profile individuals — such as Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens and Bernie Madoff — are raising questions about the impact of power on a person’s ethical code.

But the trial of one person in particular— Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was charged with 24 counts of federal corruption but only convicted of one — is raising another question: Can power protect a person from punishment?

Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management, proposes an answer to that question in a recent article, “Research on Power Teaches Why Blagojevich Did What He Did (… and Why He Might Get Away With It),” published in The Huffington Post.

“To challenge and punish the powerful goes against the very essence of our being, against our evolved sensitivity to our place in a hierarchy,” Galinsky writes. “Our ingrained habit is to smile, to appease, to placate, to supplicate and to accept the behavior of the powerful, especially when we stand next to them.”

Galinsky has researched the role of power in the social sciences for more than a decade. His most recent study explores the relationship between a person's “powerless” feelings and view of monetary objects. The study, “The Accentuation Bias: Money Literally Looms Larger (and Sometimes Smaller) to the Powerless,” was published in the Social and Psychological and Personality Science journal.

“In the end, power is like a strong, pungent cologne,” Galinsky concludes. “It not only intoxicates the wearer but also captures those in close proximity. This explains why juries are so often transfixed and lenient toward the powerful.”