Eva Hofmann, Barbara Hartl, Katharina Gangl, Martina Hartner-Tiefenthaler and Erich Kirchler

Authorities' coercive and legitimate power: The impact on cognitions underlying cooperation

Frontiers in Psychology

The execution of coercive and legitimate power by an authority assures cooperation and prohibits free-riding. While coercive power can be comprised of severe punishment and strict monitoring, legitimate power covers expert, and informative procedures. The perception of these powers wielded by authorities stimulates specific cognitions: trust, relational climates, and motives. With four experiments, the single and combined impact of coercive and legitimate power on these processes and on intended cooperation of n 1 = 120, n 2 = 130, n 3 = 368, and n 4 = 102 student participants is investigated within two exemplary contexts (tax contributions, insurance claims). Findings reveal that coercive power increases an antagonistic climate and enforced compliance, whereas legitimate power increases reason-based trust, a service climate, and voluntary cooperation. Unexpectedly, legitimate power is additionally having a negative effect on an antagonistic climate and a positive effect on enforced compliance; these findings lead to a modification of theoretical assumptions. However, solely reason-based trust, but not climate perceptions and motives, mediates the relationship between power and intended cooperation. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.