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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Is Prosocial Norm Violation a Pathway to Power?

  • Author(s): Zhang, Min
  • Advisor(s): Smith, Pamela
  • et al.

This dissertation investigates social reactions to prosocial norm violation, or violating a social norm to help others. I investigated how prosocial norm violation (e.g., wearing inappropriate clothing to advocate for an important cause) separately affects how powerful that person appears to others and how much power people are willing to give to that person.

Across four main studies and five supplementary studies, when a target performed a prosocial action, they were seen as slightly less powerful, but were much less likely to be given a powerful role, when that action was a norm violation (versus norm consistent). When the positive impact of the prosocial action was heightened, the norm violator was seen as just as powerful as the norm follower, but was still less likely to be given power. Mediation analyses suggest that prosocial norm violators were perceived as more agentic than prosocial norm followers, which increased power perception. However, the violators were also perceived as less communal, which decreased both power perception and power conferral.

In conclusion, prosocial norm violation leads to mixed social outcomes: while prosocial violators were perceived as more agentic, they were also perceived as less communal and less powerful, and were given less power. Prosocial norm violation appears to not be a clear pathway to power.

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