November 19, 2013
Power Corrupts When You’re Not Used To Wielding It
[ Watch the Video: When Power Trips Get Petty ]
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It has been said there is no tyranny like petty tyranny. A new study from researchers at the University of Kent and the University of Adelaide lends academic credence to that idea.
In their research they show how people not accustomed to holding power are significantly more likely to be vengeful once they achieve a leadership position. Alternately, their study shows that those with experience as a power-holder were far more tolerant of perceived wrongdoing.
Dr. Mario Weick and Dr. Peter Strelan co-authored the study, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology. They claim this is the first such study that explores the relationship between power and revenge.
To arrive at their findings, the team conducted four experimental studies in the UK and Australia. In all, nearly 500 participants were included in the study. Weick and Strelan created a cohort of subjects drawn from their own university populations as well as from the general public.
In each of the experimental studies, subject participants were asked to respond to distinct types of transgressions: plagiarism, negligence, gossiping and a drunken violent offense.
The research team, recognizing the necessity for a more balanced, unbiased result, exposed some of the participants to the experience of having power. Additionally, other participants were made to experience an episode of abject powerlessness.
The study results showed that spite, revenge and other acts of naked aggression are responses usually exhibited by those subjects who were new to the possession of power. Those who were more experienced holding a leadership position tended to feel more self-assured and therefore felt less vulnerable to perceived threats to their rule.
This fact rang true across each of the four studies conducted. After being exposed to power, those individuals not accustomed to leading typically sought a greater level of revenge than their more experienced counterparts. Interestingly, there was no discernible difference in the level of vengefulness among the inexperienced leaders and those who experienced a brief episode of powerlessness.
According to Dr. Weick, “Our results provide a firm indication of the relationship between power and revenge. Power is not simply good or bad; it affects different people in different ways.” Weick continued, “Our studies highlight some of the negative effects power can have on people who are less accustomed to being in charge."
“For those more accustomed to power, on the other hand, the consequences are actually quite positive as far as people’s revenge tendencies are concerned.”
In addition to researching power and powerlessness situations, the team also examined how one’s body posture could influence their proclivity to revenge. Specifically, one study had a group of participants stand erect with an expansive body posture. Another group was made to crouch on the floor. A second study asked participants to use their hand to make either a fist or present an open palm while they read about the transgressions noted above.
“Both the expanded body posture and the fist-gesture instilled a sense of power in participants and led to greater vengeance in people who are less accustomed to power, compared to more self-assured participants,” noted Weick. “These differences did not emerge when participants sat crouched on the floor or made an open-palm gesture.”
Dr. Strelan concluded, “Our finding may also hold relevance for our understanding of how social hierarchies are formed and maintained. Fear of retaliation,” he says, “could be one reason that prevents people at the bottom of hierarchies from acquiring powerful positions.”