Power Corrupts

It isn’t any news that power corrupts, but this fascinating Washington Post article is about a study that attempts to explain why it corrupts. Below are some quotes. The article is short and is very worth reading.

The standard explanation for why those in power act in self-interested, venal and authoritarian ways is that they are bad apples to begin with. Indeed, many people believe that such men and women are the ones most likely to rise to power.

snip….

These studies show that leaders often emerge from communities not because they are ruthless, but because they are skilled at managing social relationships.

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Galinsky’s point, which he noted in a study published in the journal Psychological Science, is that volunteers made to feel powerful, even in a trivial laboratory experiment, almost instantly lose the ability to see things from other people’s points of view.

snip…

But once socially gifted people rise to power, Keltner added, the paradox is that “power simplifies our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of our own self-interest, and it makes us more impulsive. We forget our audience in service of gratifying our own impulses.”

Keltner and others have shown that power exacerbates many cognitive biases. People who lack power turn out to be more accurate in guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Because subordinates are also hesitant to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, the problem gets worse, with powerful people having even less input and perspective about how others think and feel.

snip…

When powerful people such as Musharraf say and do things that are absurd, in other words, it could be that they are simply unaware of how they appear to others.

Read the full article here:
http://tinyurl.com/2ujsuo

The last point reminds of an interesting conversation I had with my supervisor who is from Iran. It was about the speech the Iranian president made in New York. I couldn’t understand why the Iranian president seemed to be so naive in thinking that he could say such patently false things and hope to gain anything. My supervisor told me that he and the other leaders of Iran are always surrounded by sycophants to the point where it would not occur to these people that anything they would say would not be accepted as the truth.

I’ve heard the American news media make similar points about Vice President Cheney and other Bush Administration officials who come from corporate leadership positions with a similar lack of “accountability” ( people likely to call them on their bullshit, opposing viewpoints getting through the insulation, etc. ).

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