Interplay between different forms of power and meritocratic considerations shapes fairness perceptions

Giannis Lois*, Arno Riedl

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Web of Science)


Power imbalance often leads to unequal allocations. However, it remains largely unknown how different forms of power and meritocratic considerations interact to shape fairness perceptions. Using modified Ultimatum Games, we examined how two power forms-decision power and availability of attractive outside option-affect bargaining behavior and fairness perceptions, and how meritocratic considerations are incorporated into the fairness perceptions of powerful and powerless individuals. We identified an asymmetric power effect: having increased decision power or attractive outside options independently increased self-advantageous allocations and self-serving fairness perceptions, whereas the combined lack of both power forms led to self-disadvantageous allocations but had no influence on fairness perceptions. The power effect on fairness perceptions became symmetric when power was obtained through a meritocratic process (procedural justice). In contrast, relative contributions to resource production (distributive justice) did not moderate power effects. We provide causal evidence that the powerful, but not the powerless, strive to minimize cognitive dissonance between behavior and fairness perceptions by interpreting fairness in self-serving ways. This study contributes novel insights into the interplay between different power forms, the asymmetry of power effects, the moderating role of procedural justice, and the mediating role of behavior in the power-driven adjustment of fairness perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11428
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2022


  • Humans
  • Self Concept
  • Social Justice
  • SELF

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