Experiments In Power

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 10 2013 @ 4:00pm

Brian Resnick observed power’s influence in the laboratory:

Power lends the power holder many benefits. Powerful people are more likely to take decisive action. In one simple experiment, it was shown that people made to feel powerful were more likely to turn off an annoying fan humming in the room. Power reduces awareness of constraints and causes people act more quickly. Powerful people also tend to think more abstractly, favoring the bigger picture over smaller consequences. Powerful people are less likely to remember the constraints to a goal. They downplay risks, and enjoy higher levels of testosterone (a dominance hormone), and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).

The upshot:

“People who are given more power in the lab, they see more choice,” Magee says. “They see beyond what is objectively there, the amount of choice they have. More directions for what actions they can take. What it means to have power is to be free of the punishment that one could exert upon you for the thing you did.” Which paves the way for another hallmark of the powerful–hypocrisy. Our guts are right about this one. On a survey, powerful study participants indicated that they were less tolerant of cheating than the less powerful. But then when given the opportunity to cheat and take more compensation for the experiment, the powerful caved in.