Power (social and political) | psychological research

Psychological research

Recent experimental psychology suggests that the more power one has, the less one takes on the perspective of others, implying that the powerful have less empathy. Adam Galinsky, along with several coauthors, found that when those who are reminded of their powerlessness are instructed to draw Es on their forehead, they are 3 times more likely to draw them such that they are legible to others than those who are reminded of their power.[32][33] Powerful people are also more likely to take action. In one example, powerful people turned off an irritatingly close fan twice as much as less powerful people. Researchers have documented the bystander effect: they found that powerful people are three times as likely to first offer help to a "stranger in distress".[34]

A study involving over 50 college students suggested that those primed to feel powerful through stating 'power words' were less susceptible to external pressure, more willing to give honest feedback, and more creative.[35]

Empathy gap

"Power is defined as a possibility to influence others."[36]:1137

The use of power has evolved from centuries.[citation needed] Gaining prestige, honor and reputation is one of the central motives for gaining power in human nature.[citation needed] Power also relates with empathy gaps because it limits the interpersonal relationship and compares the power differences. Having power or not having power can cause a number of psychological consequences. It leads to strategic versus social responsibilities.[citation needed] Research experiments were done[by whom?] as early as 1968 to explore power conflict.[36]

Past research

Earlier[when?], research proposed that increased power relates to increased rewards and leads one to approach things more frequently.[citation needed] In contrast, decreased power relates to more constraint, threat and punishment which leads to inhibitions. It was concluded[by whom?] that being powerful leads one to successful outcomes, to develop negotiation strategies and to make more self-serving offers.[citation needed]

Later[when?], research proposed that differences in power lead to strategic considerations. Being strategic can also mean to defend when one is opposed or to hurt the decision-maker. It was concluded[by whom?] that facing one with more power leads to strategic consideration whereas facing one with less power leads to a social responsibility.[36]

Bargaining games

Bargaining games were explored[by whom?] in 2003 and 2004. These studies compared behavior done in different power given[clarification needed] situations.[36]

In an ultimatum game, the person in given power offers an ultimatum and the recipient would have to accept that offer or else both the proposer and the recipient will receive no reward.[36]

In a dictator game, the person in given power offers a proposal and the recipient would have to accept that offer. The recipient has no choice of rejecting the offer.[36]


The dictator game gives no power to the recipient whereas the ultimatum game gives some power to the recipient. The behavior observed was that the person offering the proposal would act less strategically than would the one offering in the ultimatum game. Self-serving also occurred and a lot of pro-social behavior was observed.[36]

When the counterpart recipient is completely powerless, lack of strategy, social responsibility and moral consideration is often observed from the behavior of the proposal given (the one with the power).[36]

Abusive power and control

Abusive power and control (or controlling behaviour or coercive control) involve the ways in which abusers gain and maintain power and control over victims for abusive purposes such as psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse. Such abuse can have various causes - such as personal gain, personal gratification, psychological projection, devaluation, envy or just for the sake of it - as the abuser may simply enjoy exercising power and control.

Controlling abusers may use multiple tactics to exert power and control over their victims. The tactics themselves are psychologically and sometimes physically abusive. Control may be helped through economic abuse, thus limiting the victim's actions as they may then lack the necessary resources to resist the abuse.[37] Abusers aim to control and intimidate victims or to influence them to feel that they do not have an equal voice in the relationship.[38]

Manipulators and abusers may control their victims with a range of tactics, including:[39]

The vulnerabilities of the victim are exploited, with those who are particularly vulnerable being most often selected as targets.[39][40][41] Traumatic bonding can occur between the abuser and victim as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment fosters powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change, as well as a climate of fear.[42] An attempt may be made to normalise, legitimise, rationalise, deny, or minimise the abusive behaviour, or to blame the victim for it.[43][44][45]

Isolation, gaslighting, mind games, lying, disinformation, propaganda, destabilisation, brainwashing and divide and rule are other strategies that are often used. The victim may be plied with alcohol or drugs or deprived of sleep to help disorientate them.[46][47]

Certain personality-types[which?] feel particularly compelled to control other people.[citation needed]