The freedom of power

December 1, 2008

With the forthcoming inauguration this January, the nation will be closely watching to see how the President Elect will respond to the advice, influence, and criticism of his advisors, cabinet members, media, and other political leaders as he takes office. According to new research in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, being in a high power position may protect people from being influenced, creating a psychological environment where they are comfortable relying on their own attitudes, insights, expressions, and intentions.

The research was led by Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in collaboration with Joe Magee of New York University; Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University; Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas at Austin; and Katie Liljenquist of Brigham Young University.

"Although power is often perceived as the capacity to influence others, this research examines whether power protects people from influence," said Galinsky. "Our findings indicate that the powerful will generate creative ideas that are less influenced by others, be more likely to express attitudes that don't necessarily conform to prevailing peer pressure, and be more willing to counter with opposing views or statements in a discussion or argument."

Through a series of five experiments, the researchers sought to find whether the powerful are immune to influence in various situations.

In two of their studies, the researchers explored the effect of power on creativity. For example, in one experiment individuals took part in a marketing exercise and were asked to create novel names for a number of different product types. To give them some guidance in the task, they were shown examples of the kinds of names typically found for each product, but they were asked not to copy any aspects of the examples provided. The problem for creativity is that examples typically place boundaries on imagination. The high-power individuals generated more novel responses, or ones that did not reflect attributes of the examples, suggesting that their creative thinking was less constrained than the thinking of low-power individuals.

Another experiment tested susceptibility to conformity pressure from peers among participants with high or low power. When participants completed a task that most people disliked, low-power and baseline participants' opinions of the task were influenced by a bogus feedback sheet displaying that ostensible previous participants had greatly enjoyed the task. By comparison, high-power participants expressed dissatisfaction with the task, resisting the supposedly favorable opinions expressed by others. High-power participants, in other words, did not conform to what they believed others were thinking. As Joe Magee said in describing this study, "High-power people's attitudes do not change with the wind."

In another study, high-power individuals negotiated based on their deeply held values about cooperation and competition. Low-power individuals were more likely to be influenced by the behavior of their opponents. The research also suggests that power, by leading people to express their underlying attitudes and thoughts uninfluenced by others, reveals rather than makes the person.

Magee mentioned the relevance to President Elect Barack Obama. "Our research suggests that people may not need to worry too much about power corrupting Obama," he said. "His newfound power might enable the change he desires rather than that power changing him instead. This is contrary to what most people think: that the longer he works in Washington the more he will be influenced by the same old ways of doing things."

"Although power is often thought of as a pernicious force that corrupts people who possess it, it is the protection from situational influence that helps powerful individuals surmount social obstacles and express the seemingly unpopular ideas of today that transform into the ideals of tomorrow," Galinsky concluded.

Source: Manning Selvage & Lee

Explore further: You'd never know it wasn't Bach (or even human)

Related Stories

You'd never know it wasn't Bach (or even human)

August 21, 2015

In her spare time, when she can find any, Donya Quick composes music, typically jazz, generally on the six-foot baby grand piano that dominates her apartment's living room. A baby grand isn't an all-hours option in a multi-unit ...

New research on the causes of the Viking Age

July 27, 2015

The Viking hit-and-run raids on monastic communities such as Lindisfarne and Iona were the most infamous result of burgeoning Scandinavian maritime prowess in the closing years of the Eighth Century.

Software turns smartphones into tools for medical research

July 27, 2015

Jody Kearns doesn't like to spend time obsessing about her Parkinson's disease. The 56-year-old dietitian from Syracuse, New York, had to give up bicycling because the disorder affected her balance. But she still works, drives ...

Controlling interactions between distant qubits

July 23, 2015

A big part of the burgeoning science of quantum computation is reliably storing and processing information in the form of quantum bits, or qubits. One of the obstacles to this goal is the difficulty of preserving the fragile ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.