The Psychology Behind Power
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The Psychology Behind Power

Psychology of Power

Power posits great responsibility. It is an ability through which one can get their work done by other people. The definition of power is many and it can be understood through various terms. One is also said to have power when they have the freedom to act on their own accord. Power is also related to having an upper hand and authority. Society has always arranged themselves into social hierarchies. People function within the context of authority, status and power.

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The role of power in maintaining societal relationships, how people obey people in authority easily and the rising question about where it comes from are all questions that we need to seek and know. This article delves into just that. We will try to understand what power is, the role of power and the psychology behind it.

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McClelland came up with his Need Theory. Besides the basics of the need for achievement and the need for affiliation, McClelland came up with the Need for Power (nPow). The need for power is the desire to control one’s own goals. It is often described as the desire to control others. Power cannot exist in isolation. This means that power exists in a broader societal context. Social hierarchies impact how people communicate with each other and the functioning of society is dependent on power dynamics. The interplay of power within social groups can significantly impact relationships, communication patterns, and the distribution of resources.

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Galinsky has conducted experiments to psychologically understand aspects of power. In this experiment, he put people into two positions — one where they are likely to feel powerful and one where they are likely to feel less powerful. All the participants were asked to draw a letter on their forehead. The results were such that people who were in situations where they felt powerful, drew the letter from the perspective of the one writing the letter (themselves) whole individuals in situations where they felt less powerful, drew letters from the perspective of others (i.e. the experimenters).

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This experiment brings to light how people with power have a reduced capacity to understand and take into account the perspective of others. Research also shows that the habit of giving in to stereotypes and objectification is also associated with power.

Effects of Power

Research has shown that perception of one’s power leads them to engage in risk-taking behaviour. This means that if an individual sees themselves holding power and authority, they might engage more with decisions that are impulsive and risky. At the same time, they might also exhibit increased confidence but reduced capacity to show sensitivity to others. Power also boosts confidence or conviction about their abilities and opinions, as well as other self-enhancing beliefs, which are middle-level mechanisms that facilitate prompt decision-making and exercise of influence (Guinote, 2016). Power also leads to the development of a high self-esteem, confidence and satisfaction with oneself.

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Marked research over time in history has shown that access to power leads to a deficit in empathy. An ideal example of this would be the Zimbardo Prison Experiment. There is a simple logic behind this. People in power are always less dependent on others to achieve their goals. This means that they don’t need to be responsible for the emotions and needs of others. On the contrary, a person working towards power is dependent and needs resources and other amenities from others. This means that they need to be mindful and empathetic towards others.

Power also is a key tool in influencing others. There are several ways power impacts the decisions in our lives, including through conformity and persuasion. Power, as an important psychological variable, has an important influence on an individual’s social cognition, emotion, decision-making and behaviour (Bugental, Blue, & Cruzcosa, 1989).

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Power Impacts Our Thoughts

The way it makes an individual think in more simple terms makes them prone to stereotypes. Power impacts emotions — people in power feel positive emotions and optimism at a higher level, hence their likeliness to engage in risk-taking behaviour. They also hide their true emotions in the presence of a crowd more often. All this can make us understand and include that power influences the way people behave. People in power are more likely to take initiative and assume the role of a leader, even if not clearly stated. They also are more likely to not follow social norms, engage in social negotiations and even are not afraid to put their opinion forward, no matter what the situation.

Evidence suggests that power changes people. However the question — Is power the reason for corruption? remains unanswered or has been given varied answers. Power can be defined as a personality trait or even as something a person works towards acquiring. But, we cannot deny the impact it has on an individual’s thoughts, feelings and emotions.

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