Power breeds competence, not corruption, according to a new study in the May issue of Psychological Science. The study, a collaboration between U.S. and Dutch researchers, finds that if people feel powerful in their roles, they may be less likely to make on-the-job errors — like administering the wrong medication to a patient. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the study suggests that people at the bottom of the workplace totem pole don't end up there for lack of ability, but rather that being low and powerless in a hierarchy leads to more mistakes. It's a finding that surprised even the study's authors. "I'll be totally honest. When we started this research," says Adam Galinsky, a co-author and a social psychology professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, "we first had the hypothesis that maybe power might impair [cognitive] functioning."
"This research has a lot of direct implications for such things as whether power corrupts," says Galinsky, who collaborated with researchers from VU University Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegan.
Here's how the study worked: volunteers, Dutch university students, were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups. Researchers "primed" each group at the outset — using a variety of psychological devices — to feel powerful, powerless or neutral. In one priming exercise, students were asked to form sentences using specific groups of words. The powerful group got words that implied high power, like "authority" or "dominate." The powerless group were given words such as "subordinate" and "obey." The control group got power-neutral words. After completing the word tasks, participants were tested for what Galinsky refers to as "executive function" — the ability to pay attention to relevant information while ignoring irrelevant information, and completing tasks based on the relevant information.
I wonder how this fits in with racial roles and placing certain races at the bottom of the totem pole?
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