How social power and its perceived legitimacy affect motivations and behaviour
Rego, Marco Filipe Magalhaes Silva
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis aims to investigate how powerless and powerful individuals and groups perceive and experience social inequalities and how they are motivated to respond to them. By combining existing knowledge of the effects of interpersonal power on motivations and behaviour with an account of the structure of intergroup relations (social identity theory), I examine the socio-psychological processes underlying these responses in power structures. Across four experiments, I investigate the perspective of both powerful and powerless individuals and show that the motivations and behaviour elicited by their power (or lack of it) are not invariant, but can be modified by the perceived legitimacy of their power position. Additionally, I also show that the powerless' behaviour is responsive not only to perceptions of legitimacy but also to concerns regarding impression management. I then focus on the perspective of powerful group members and demonstrate how perceptions of legitimacy and individual differences in social dominance orientation (SDO) interact to predict their willingness to engage in positive behaviour (i.e., helping intentions towards the powerless). Additionally, I demonstrate across two experiments that the help-providers position in the power structure (internal power holders vs. external observer) moderate how the interplay between legitimacy and SDO shape helping intentions. In sum, the six experiments reported in this thesis illustrate how the effects of social power on individuals responses to power imbalances is modified by perceptions of legitimacy, and also how illegitimate power promotes strategic responses that are reflective of specific identify-related concerns. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology
PhD in Psychology