The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘power’

The Situation of Psychopathy

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 20, 2012

A former student of mine, Brett Murphy, has co-authored a fascinating and sophisticated paper on the roots of psychopathy, which you can download on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

“Psychopathy” is a psychopathological construct involving a diverse set of affective deficits and behavioral disinhibitions that result in substantial antisocial behavior, and includes traits such as extreme egocentricity, profound lack of empathy, and limited ability to experience guilt and remorse. The costs that “psychopaths” impose on society are enormous. Researchers have estimated that they comprise more than 15 percent of the adult prison population and are even more highly represented among repeat violent offenders. Although psychopaths are not necessarily violent, when they do commit violent offenses, their violence is very often coldblooded, predatorial, and instrumentally employed in the pursuit of another goal, such as money, sex, or power.

This unpublished manuscript extensively reviews and summarizes much of the psychological and neurobiological literature related to “psychopathy.” In addition to reviewing the existing findings regarding psychopathy and the prominent hypotheses regarding its etiology and unifying characteristics, this manuscript also offers a novel theory of the primary form of psychopathy, the “power assessment” hypothesis. This “power assessment” hypothesis argues: (1) that much of human behavior and cognition is causally influenced by bioregulatory mechanisms related to internal, subconscious assessments of power; and (2) that abnormalities in these mechanisms, when present starting early in childhood, may generate the cognitive, attentional, and behavorial characteristics of primary psychopathy.

Download the paper for free here.

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Low-Status Situation of Corrupting Power

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 30, 2011

From Eureka Alert:

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 status—and the respect that comes with that status—then 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.”

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Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Power Goes to the Head

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 10, 2008

From Science Daily:

* * *

New research appearing in the May issue of Psychological Science . . . suggests that being put in a low-power role may impair a person’s basic cognitive functioning and thus, their ability to get ahead.

In their article, Pamela Smith of Radboud University Nijmegen, and colleagues Nils B. Jostmann of VU University Amsterdam, Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Wilco W. van Dijk of VU University Amsterdam, focus on a set of cognitive processes called executive functions. Executive functions help people maintain and pursue their goals in difficult, distracting situations. The researchers found that lacking power impaired people’s ability to keep track of ever-changing information, to parse out irrelevant information, and to successfully plan ahead to achieve their goals.

In one experiment, the participants completed a Stroop task, a common psychological test designed to exercise executive functions. Participants who had earlier been randomly assigned to a low-power group made more errors in the Stroop task than those who had been assigned to a high-power group. Smith and colleagues also found that these results were not due to low-power people being less motivated or putting in less effort. Instead, those lacking in power had difficulty maintaining a focus on their current goal.

In another experiment, participants were asked to move an arrangement of disks from a start position to a final position in as few moves as possible, known to researchers as the Tower-of-Hanoi task. This task tests the more complex ability of planning. In some trials there was a catch: participants had to move the first disk in a direction that was opposite to its final position. Low power participants made more errors and required more moves on these trials, demonstrating poor planning.

Smith and colleagues believe their results have “direct implications for management and organizations.” In high-risk industries such as health care, a single employee error can have fatal consequences. Empowering these employees could reduce the likelihood of such errors. Additionally, their work illustrates how hierarchies perpetuate themselves. By randomly assigning individuals to high and low-power conditions, they demonstrate that simply lacking power can automatically lead to performance that reinforces one’s low standing, sending the powerless towards a destiny of dispossession.

Posted in Education, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situation of Consumption

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 8, 2008

Lee Dye of ABC News wrote a fascinating story about a revealing study that contends that the more powerless we are feeling, the more likely we are to try to reclaim a sense of power and status through the gadgets that we purchase. The following excerpts are taken from the ABC story.

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Want to know why you just bought that gadget that you really can’t afford? Because you were feeling like a wimp.

A new study out of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., shows that the more often we feel powerless, the more likely we are to spend ourselves into the poor house. The study, published in the current edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, contends that when the boss puts you down, you feel so robbed of power that you’re more likely to go out and buy yourself some status symbol. When that happens, you’re willing to pay a lot more for it than if you felt powerful, a process the researchers call “compensatory consumption.”

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If his study is on target, when the sense of power goes down, so does your wallet. That’s partly because we tend to associate power with status. So, if we lose power, the researchers contend, we may try to make up for that loss, at least emotionally, by buying a status symbol.

* * *

If his study is on target, when the sense of power goes down, so does your wallet. That’s partly because we tend to associate power with status. So, if we lose power, the researchers contend, we may try to make up for that loss, at least emotionally, by buying a status symbol.

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To read the entire article click here. For a related Situationist post, check out “Why You Bought That,” Just Choose It!” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.” Image by by Giando [♀] Flickr.

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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