Authorities' Coercive and Legitimate Power: The Impact on Cognitions Underlying Cooperation

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

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    51 Citations (Scopus)
    157 Downloads (Pure)


    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 n1=120, n2=130, n3=368, and n4=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 anantagonistic 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.

    Publisher Statement: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5
    Number of pages15
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2017


    • coercive power
    • legitimate power
    • trust
    • authority
    • cooperation


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