More power leads to more dehumanization, says study

(Medical Xpress)—People assigned to positions of power tend to dehumanize those in less powerful positions even when the roles are randomly assigned, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, to be published in the May issue of the , found that participants given more powerful roles in two experiments attributed fewer uniquely human traits—characteristics that distinguish people from other animals—to their peers who were given less powerful roles.

"I think a lot of us have the that some powerful people can be pretty dehumanizing," said Jason Gwinn, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and and lead author of the study. "But our goal was to test if , when randomly assigned to ordinary students, would have that effect. That would say something about power itself rather than about the sort of people who have the drive to take power."

The researchers enlisted about 300 CU-Boulder students taking an introductory psychology course to participate in two experiments. In the first experiment, students were assigned to be either a manager or an assistant for a mock hiring task. The assistants were asked to review resumes for an open job and then list the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant. The managers then reviewed the list made by their assistants and made a final decision about whom to hire.

In the second experiment, participants were asked to play a game and were assigned to be either an allocator or a recipient. For the game, one allocator and one recipient were tasked with splitting a pot of money. The allocator, the higher-power role, made the first offer, suggesting how the money be split. If the recipient, the lower-power role, accepted the offer, both people received their share of the money. If the recipient declined the offer, neither person received any of the money.

At the end of each experiment, the participants were asked to rate each other on 40 traits. The result was that students in higher-power roles assigned fewer uniquely human traits to the students in lower-power roles than vice versa. Examples of traits considered to be more uniquely human, as defined and tested in a 2007 Australian study, include being ambitious, imaginative, frivolous and insecure. Examples of traits that are less uniquely human—those that could be used to describe a pet as well as a friend, for example—include being passive, timid, friendly and shy.

The question of whether power leads to dehumanization has part of its roots in the renowned Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. Twenty-four male students were randomly assigned to play the role of either inmate or guard in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. During the study, the guards were psychologically abusive to the prisoners, many of whom passively accepted the abuse, despite the fact that the participants knew that they were all students at the same elite university.

Though the guards were described as dehumanizing the prisoners, the term "dehumanization" was well defined at the time and the experiment was not designed to allow the researchers to confidently state that it was the increase in power that lead to the dehumanization. By contrast, Gwinn's study, now available online, was designed specifically to test the relationship between power and dehumanization.

Gwinn cautions that the researchers cannot yet say whose perspective is being changed by the power differential imposed on participants in the CU study. It's possible that being in a position of less power makes a person see those in power as more human rather than the other way around, or that both people are affected.

"We haven't pinned down why this happens," Gwinn said. "We don't know whose perception is being affected."

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Lurker2358
not rated yet Mar 07, 2013
The money split is probably a poor measure, because almost all humans are greedy. You will probably end up with a 60/40 split every time, in favor of the one in power.

Additionally, the experimentor is still the final authority over the "allocator" due to the "if you don't agree then nobody keeps anything" rule.

In real economics and politics that rule does not exist. The person in power imposes their will through force (military or police harassment,) or through economic means (price setting, etc,). Unless there is a benevolent government, there is no third party making any attempt at a "fairness" rule.

The more powerful corporations become, the less effective any "fairness" rules become, because they always find a loophole, or just buy their way out of it.
Lurker2358
not rated yet Mar 07, 2013
One way to model economics is to do these two prison experiments. (illegal I think).

control group:
We have two prison cells with inmates.
Subject A controls all food.
Subject B controls all water.

Each must trade to survive.

Experiment group:
Subject A controls water.
Subject C controls food.
Subject B is between A and C and controls nothing (or possibly a spice).

This is a little more like the real world.

Maybe introduce a subject D, the guard, who taxes all transactions...
Lurker2358
not rated yet Mar 07, 2013
Anyway, in the example above, B represents banks, merchants, corporations and other power mongers or middle men.

The optional D would represent a state, local, or federal government.

It's to see intuitively that B is in a position of more power than either A or C, in spite of having no resources of his own, but real world games don't always follow their apparent courses either.
omatwankr
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2013
Little Sir Echo
How do you do
Hello, Hello

Little Sir Echo
I'm feeling blue
Won't you come over and play

You're a nice little fellow
I can tell by your voice
But you're always so far away
aaron1960
not rated yet Mar 07, 2013
All power corrupts! ... That is why it must be made as easy as possible for people with power to lose their power.
freethinking
1 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2013
If you think about it a devote democraticly elected christian leader is least likely to dehumanize anyone. Why? Because they consider all people equally human, and he is a leader only because God put him there.

The most dehumanizing leader would be an atheist communist.

Progressives as they remove God from leadership, reduce democratic power (by allowing illegals to vote, making voting multiple times easy), is making government more dehumanizing. Which makes a lot of sense since every great progressive from the founder of Planned Parenthood, et al, has been constantly dehumanizing the weak.

Sigh
not rated yet Mar 11, 2013
The money split is probably a poor measure, because almost all humans are greedy. You will probably end up with a 60/40 split every time, in favor of the one in power.

Though not stated here, the logical experimental design is 2x2 factorial, where half the former managers become allocators, half recipients, and the same for former assistants. Then you ask whether the former role affects the offers of allocators. The question is not what being an allocator does.

In real economics and politics that rule does not exist.
It does. I offer something for sale, at a fixed price. The money is worth more to me than the item, the difference is my (potential) profit. You decide to buy if the item is worth more to you than the price, which gives you a profit. If you refuse to buy, perhaps because you see the division of profits as too unequal, neither of us makes a profit.
Sigh
not rated yet Mar 11, 2013
Clarification: this here should have been a quote in my previous comment:
In real economics and politics that rule does not exist.