Does power blinden you from reaching out to others? University of Amsterdam and University of California, Berkeley researchers answer - yes, it does.
The study led by psychologist Gerben A. van Kleef from University of Amsterdam has found that power has a significant impact on an individual's emotional reactions to people in distress.
AdvertisementDuring the research, a group of undergraduates completed questionnaires about their personal sense of power, which identified them to the researchers as either being high-power or low-power.
The students were then randomly paired up and had to tell their partner about an event which had caused them emotional suffering and pain. Their partners then rated their emotions after hearing the story.
The researchers were interested in seeing if there were physical differences in the way high-power people and low-power people responded to others' suffering; specifically they wanted to test if high-powered individuals would exhibit greater autonomic emotion regulation [or respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) reactivity].
When we are faced with psychological stress, our RSA reactivity increases, resulting in a lower heart rate and a calmed, relaxed feeling.
They found that individuals with a higher sense of power experienced less compassion and distress when confronted with another's suffering, compared to low-power individuals.
Moreover, high-power individuals' RSA reactivity increased (indicated by lower heart rate) as they listened to the painful stories; that is, high power participants showed more autonomic emotion regulation, which buffered against their partner's distress.
The study also found that high-power individuals reported a weaker desire to get to know and establish a friendship with their partner.
In other words, powerful people were not motivated to establish a relationship with distressed individuals.
The authors suggest that powerful people's tendency to show less compassion and distress towards others reinforces their social power.
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