Power corrupts, especially when it lacks status
Ever wonder why that government clerk was so rude and condescending? Or why the mid-level manager at your company always doles out the most demeaning tasks? Or, on a more profound level, why the guards at Abu Ghraib tortured and humiliated their prisoners?
In a new study, researchers at USC, Stanford and the Kellogg School of Management have found that individuals in roles that possess power but lack status have a tendency to engage in activities that demean others. According to the study, "The Destructive Nature of Power without Status," the combination of some authority and little perceived status can be a toxic combination.
The research, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, is "based on the notions that a) low-status is threatening and aversive and b) power frees people to act on their internal states and feelings." The study was conducted by Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business; Nir Halevy, acting assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Adam Galinsky, professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
To test their theses, the authors conducted an experiment with students who were told they would be interacting with a fellow student in a business exercise and were randomly assigned to either a high-status "Idea Producer" role or low-status "Worker" role. Then these individuals were asked to select activities from a list of 10 for the others to perform; some of the tasks were more demeaning than others.
The experiment demonstrated that "individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog three times) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles."
According to the study, possessing power in the absence of status may have contributed to the acts committed by U.S. soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004. That incident was reminiscent of behaviors exhibited during the famous Stanford Prison Experiment with undergraduate students that went awry in the early 1970s. In both cases the guards had power, but they lacked respect and admiration in the eyes of others and in both cases prisoners were treated in extremely demeaning ways.
Fast said that he and his colleagues focused on the relationship between power and status because "although a lot of work has looked at these two aspects of hierarchy, it has typically looked at the isolated effects of either power or status, not both. We wanted to understand how those two aspects of hierarchy interact. We predicted that when people have a role that gives them power but lacks statusand the respect that comes with that statusthen it can lead to demeaning behaviors. Put simply, it feels bad to be in a low status position and the power that goes with that role gives them a way to take action on those negative feelings."
Social hierarchy, the study says, does not on its own generate demeaning tendencies. In other words, the idea that power always corrupts may not be entirely true. Just because someone has power or, alternatively, is in a "low status" role does not mean they will mistreat others. Rather, "power and status interact to produce effects that cannot be fully explained by studying only one or the other basis of hierarchy."
One way to overcome this dynamic, according to the authors, is to find ways for all individuals, regardless of the status of their roles, to feel respected and valued. The authors write: " respect assuages negative feelings about their low-status roles and leads them to treat others positively."
Opportunities for advancement may also help. "If an individual knows he or she may gain a higher status role in the future, or earn a bonus for treating others well, that may help ameliorate their negative feelings and behavior," Fast said.
The researchers conclude, however, that, "Our findings indicate that the experience of having power without status, whether as a member of the military or a college student participating in an experiment, may be a catalyst for producing demeaning behaviors that can destroy relationships and impede goodwill."
Provided by University of Southern California
- The high cost of low status Jun 26, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- We work harder against lesser rivals, new study shows Feb 24, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Power outage: A loss of social power distorts how money is represented Jun 07, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Our own status affects the way our brains respond to others Apr 28, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Power and the illusion of control: Why some make the impossible possible and others fall short Mar 03, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
7 hours ago Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
Youth who had a schoolmate die by suicide are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide, according to a study in published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). This effect can last 2 years or mo ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0
Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered specific chemical alterations in two genes that, when present during pregnancy, reliably predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression.
Psychology & Psychiatry 9 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of older people better than advising them to follow a low-fat diet, indicates research published online in the Journal of ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 19 hours ago | 2 / 5 (1) | 2
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 19 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Turns out, that old "practice makes perfect" adage may be overblown. New research led by Michigan State University's Zach Hambrick finds that a copious amount of practice is not enough to explain why people ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 20 hours ago | 3.3 / 5 (12) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Despite spending billions of dollars on research and development, drug companies have been unable to come up with effective treatments for dementia and Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Now, A. ...
34 minutes ago | 4.5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Children with autism showed significant improvement after six months of simple sensory exercises at home using everyday items such as scents, spoons and sponges, according to UC Irvine neurobiologists.
19 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
An attack on glioblastoma brain tumor cells that uses a modified poliovirus is showing encouraging results in an early study to establish the proper dose level, researchers at Duke Cancer Institute report.
25 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Overweight and obese patients are significantly more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to repeatedly switch primary care doctors, a practice that disrupts continuity of care and leads to more emergency room visits, ...
20 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke in early childhood are more likely to grow up to physically aggressive and antisocial, regardless of whether they were exposed during pregnancy or their parents have a history ...
57 minutes ago | 1 / 5 (1) | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Native peoples in regions where cameras are uncommon sometimes react with caution when their picture is taken. The fear that something must have been stolen from them to create the photo ...
2 hours ago | 3.5 / 5 (2) | 0 |