Prosocial norm violations fuel power affordance

Gerben A. Van Kleef*, Astrid C. Homan, Catrin Finkenauer, Nancy M. Blaker, Marc W. Heerdink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The question of what makes people rise to power has long puzzled social scientists. Here we examined the novel hypothesis that power is afforded to individuals who exhibit prosocial norm violations-i.e., breaking rules for the benefit of others. Three experiments using different methods provide support for this idea. Individuals who deliberately ignored a prohibition to tilt a bus chair (Study 1; scenario) or to close a window (Study 2; film clip) were afforded more power than individuals who obeyed the rules, but only when the norm violation benefited others (i.e., by giving them more leg space or fresh air). Study 2 further showed that this effect was mediated by perceived social engagement, which was highest among prosocial norm violators. In Study 3 (face-to-face), a confederate who stole coffee from the experimenter's desk was afforded more power than a confederate who took coffee upon invitation, but only when he also offered coffee to the participant. We discuss implications for hierarchy formation, morality, and social engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)937-942
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Norm violation
  • Power
  • Social engagement hypothesis


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