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Why some brains follow the rules and others don’t?

Have just read the article “Why the brain follows the rules? (see it bellow) and what really intrigued me was not exactly the question why the brain follows the rules but why  there are some differences among people…or say it differently….Why some brains don’t follow the rules?

It’s brought me back to the question of psychology of power   as influence of personal/genetic traits and the influence of enviroment(omnipresent corporate culture which declare itself as a person but without human traits) which shapes people’s mind through language/values and perception.

And here Niccolò Machiavelli comes on stage. To helps us figure out either opportunistic and selfish behaviour is indeed result of someones brain (dis)function or it could be simply acquired during socialization. The field is well studied but with no final answer. So i gonna speculate as well. Cos i did  extensive study for myself  to catch just the tail of the problem. The whole body of the problem is yet to be researched.

Take a minute to find your score on Machiavelli personality test . It’s fun and while doing it you can get pretty clear idea what it’s all about (and what i am talking in the rest of the post). To be socially successful in this world, you would mark the answers which are not really close to your true nature but you would definitely pass better at work or on social situation (not friends) if you behave lake that. Thinking about that is already opportunistic. And here is evident the whole problem. It is kind of adaption mechanism or survival strategy. But still…to which extent? We all do it. But than, why some of them can easily take the last exit of human morality and try to dominate other people. We all don’t do it. That’s clear. Some of us have different goals than money and dominance. Beauty of every moment, for example.

 And going further, for example, I can’t simply believe that all people from “elite” families are genetically  so the same that they follow the same Machiavelli’s rules. They’ve been taught, i guess. But the range of people who came to the position of manipulating and are not part of taught elite, could be so diverse. From psychopath traits to the ones who simply found out by chance how to come to the position of dominance and manipulation. Although they were just good, nice , ordinary people before. Did they hide those traits or did the system change them? As one research showed the level of serotonin rises as person comes to the higher position. The Standford experiment is great example for that. But unfortunately, the end result is  the same as it would be inherited case. Brain is very plastic, seems so. And it changes a lot during the life.

As some researches show, machiavellism and primary psychopathic traits are highly correlated, but the question remains: Was it there before or was it learned…Some researches show that correlation doesn’t exist.  That Machiavellians are just well adopted people with high survival instincts. Is it possible that their social status and wealth diminishes the treat of punishment and that’s why their brain shows all signs of disinhibition which is characteristic for psychopaths?

See bellow the traits of psychopaths, machievillists, correlations and what scans of the brain say about. One is sure. Orbitofrontal cortex is playing a great role. Was it that kind at their birth or was it changed during the life time as adaption strategy, is the real question to be answered.

The traits of  PSYCHOPATHS(Cleckley, 1941; http://www.rottenamerica.com/Psychopath/Signs%20of%20a%20Psychopath.htm ):

PRIMARY PSYCHOPATHS do not respond to punishment, apprehension, stress, or disapproval. They seem to be able to inhibit their antisocial impulses most of the time, not because of conscience, but because it suits their purpose at the time. Words do not seem to have the same meaning for them as they do for us. In fact, it’s unclear if they even grasp the meaning of their own words, a condition that Cleckley called “semantic aphasia.” They don’t follow any life plan, and it seems as if they are incapable of experiencing any genuine emotion.

SECONDARY PSYCHOPATHS are risk-takers, but are also more likely to be stress-reactive, worriers, and guilt-prone. They expose themselves to more stress than the average person, but they are as vulnerable to stress as the average person. (This suggests that they are not “fully psychopathic.” This may be due to distinctive genetic variations.)

They are daring, adventurous, unconventional people who began playing by their own rules early in life. They are strongly driven by a desire to escape or avoid pain, but are unable to resist temptation. As their anxiety increases toward some forbidden object, so does their attraction to it. They live their lives by the lure of temptation. Both primary and secondary psychopaths can be subdivided into:

DISTEMPERED PSYCHOPATHS are the kind that seem to fly into a rage or frenzy more easily and more often than other subtypes. Their frenzy will resemble an epileptic fit. They are also usually men with incredibly strong sex drives, capable of astonishing feats of sexual energy, and seemingly obsessed by sexual urges during a large part of their waking lives. Powerful cravings also seem to characterize them, as in drug addiction, kleptomania, pedophilia, any illicit or illegal indulgence. They like the endorphin “high” or “rush” off of excitement and risk-taking. The serial-rapist-murderer known as the Boston Strangler was such a psychopath.

CHARISMATIC PSYCHOPATHS are charming, attractive liars. They are usually gifted at some talent or another, and they use it to their advantage in manipulating others. They are usually fast-talkers, and possess an almost demonic ability to persuade others out of everything they own, even their lives. Leaders of religious sects or cults, for example, might be psychopaths if they lead their followers to their deaths. This subtype often comes to believe in their own fictions. They are irresistible.

Sociopaths have always existed in varying form and to various degrees. They have been known by various titles. They have been studied using various techniques, and through the years their ailment has been blamed on various causes. But one thing never varies: all sociopaths share three common characteristics. They are all very egocentric individuals with no empathy for others, and they are incapable of feeling remorse or guilt.  [The Sociopath Rebecca Horton (April 1999)]

 Bellow are some explanations what mechiavellisem means psychologicaly and MRI (brain scans) how it can be explained neurologically:

 Machiavellian intelligence

The term refers to Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) and to the hypothesis that the techniques which lead to certain kinds of political success within large social groups are also applicable within smaller groups, including the family-unit. The term “everyday politics” was later introduced in reference to these various methods. These arguments are based on research by primatologists such as Nicholas Humphrey (1975).

Machiavelli’s teachings continue to influence all levels of Western society. Take for example a situation presented by Michael Walzer: An elementary school needs a new roof. Simple as it may seem, much of Machiavelli’s theories will be put to use. Money from a budget must be allocated by officials, each of them lobbying for what they think is most important. Even then, if money is allocated towards a new roof, a construction contractor must be hired. One must consistently consider, What is behind this lower estimate for the construction work? Why does this company want this small contract? Many questions must be asked in order to identify deception. In the end, all anyone can ever do is “strive to make an informed decision based on the best evidence, and then act accordingly, even though the best evidence will never guarantee certainty.”

Machiavellian intelligence may be demonstrated by behaviors including:

  • Making and breaking alliances
  • making and breaking promises
  • making and breaking rules;
  • lying and truth-telling;
  • blaming and forgiveness;
  • misleading and misdirection.

Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism is the term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person’s tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain. The concept is named after Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote Il Principe(The Prince). In the 1960s Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis developed a test for measuring a person’s level of Machiavellianism. This eventually became the MACH-IV test, a twenty-statement personality survey that is now the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism. People scoring above 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV are considered high Machs; that is, they endorsed statements such as, “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so,” (No. 1) but not ones like, “Most people are basically good and kind” (No. 4). People scoring below 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV are considered low Machs; they tend to believe, “There is no excuse for lying to someone else,” (No. 7) and, “Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives” (No. 11). In a series of studies undertaken by Christie and Geis and Geis’s graduate assistant David Berger, the notion of machiavellianism was experimentally verified.

High Machs

High Machs tend to take a more detached, calculating approach in their interaction with other people. In terms of Big Five personality traits, Machiavellians tend to be low on agreeableness and high in conscientiousness.

Scholars and researchers have attempted to find a correlation between Machiavellianismand narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy. It could be understood that psychopaths and sociopathshave a similar disposition that could be identified with Machiavellianism, for sociopaths are known for manipulation and cunning. Psychopaths, however, generally have difficulty realizing or understanding the concepts of right and wrong, and tend not to have much regard for consequences. On the other hand, High Machs perhaps more or less view as Machiavelli did, and simply believe that while right and wrong have reality (at least to most people), that it is impractical to be ethical all the time, and that perhaps there is a difference between outright deception or exploitation, and subtle spins on the truth for the sake of what is seen (subjectively) as a more important cause that is not recognized by both parties. However, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two, because both types exhibit similar tendencies, often while considering it important to mask or misrepresent their motives. Furthermore, true High Machs (as opposed to sociopaths) tend to take consequences very seriously, and when dedicated to a course of action which may backfire, it is usually because the potential consequences have been weighed quite carefully and the High Mach is prepared to be responsible if blame cannot be deflected sufficiently.
Low Machs tend to take a more personal, empathic approach in their interaction with other people. They tend to be more trusting of others and more honest. They believe humans are essentially good natured. At the extreme, low Machs tend to be passive, submissive, highly agreeable, dependent and socially inept; in contrast with those who are more Machiavellian, they also tend to believe that everyone has a good and bad side.

Personality correlates of machiavellianism: v. machiavellianism, extraversion and toughmindedness in business

Previous research has demonstrated a relationship between Machiavellianism and a preference for business occupations. The present study tested the hypothesis that this Machiavellian-business connection is mediated by other personality characteristics. Support was obtained for predictions that, compared to Non-Business High Machs, Business High Machs would (i) differ little on Neuroticism (low) or Pchoticism (high), but (ii) score significantly higher on Extraversion, as measured by the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. The links between sociability (Extraversion), toughmindedness (Psychoticism) and skills in interpersonal manipulation (Machiavellianism) are discussed in terms of their complementary implications for effective business behaviour.

“Machiavellianism” and frontal dysfunction: Evidence from Parkinson’s disease

A framework exploring the effects of the Machiavellian disposition on the relationship between motivation and influence tactics

Machiavelli’s (1513/1902) work The Prince provided the basis of the Machiavellian personality type coined by Christie and Geis (1970). The traditional Machiavellian perspective advocates that the leader’s main goal is to be in power at all costs, whereby the end justifies the means as long as power is retained.

The Machiavellian personality type has been researched extensively. Initial research found individuals who were strong in the Machiavellian disposition to be controlling, manipulative, and ruthless (Christie & Geis, 1970). However, recent research has shown that individuals higher in the Machiavellian disposition are more flexible in their choices of influence tactics than individuals lower in the Machiavellian disposition (Grams & Rogers, 1989), and are more likely to exhibit self-monitoring behaviors (Snyder, 1974). The Machiavellian personality has been positively correlated with certain types of planning for communication in interpersonal situations, indicating that high Machiavellians give thought to how to influence others (Allen, 1990).

Those who score high on a Machiavellian assessment instrument would be more flexible in choosing influence tactics most likely to lead to follower compliance (Carpenter, 1990). Those scoring low on a Machiavellian assessment would be less likely to strategically alter their behavior. Another factor contributing to the high Machiavellian’s flexibility of behavior might be the ability to use self-monitoring to read and use environmental cues to determine behavior. Research has shown a strong relationship between Machiavellianism and self-monitoring (Leone, 1994; Snyder, 1974).

Under the situational model, a high Machiavellian disposition would affect the relationship between an individual’s motivation source and influence tactic choice, because he or she would be able to alter behavior according to the situation. By contrast, the dispositional model indicates that the low Machiavellian is less likely to alter behavior. Therefore, the situation does not become a factor in that individual’s influence behavior, demonstrating again that the individual’s motivation source has a direct relationship with his or her influence tactic choice.

Machiavellianism in Initial and Repeated Influence Attempts

Machiavellians display superb negotiation skills, and their ability to influence is impressive (Christie & Geis, 1970). Kets de Vries and Miller (1985) related narcissism to the Machiavellian personality when they described the self-deceptive variety of narcissism. Narcissistic individuals were said to display a lack of empathy and fear of failure and were considered “ideal-hungry,” preoccupied with their own needs, and strongly desirous of being loved, as well as having a transactional/instrumental orientation.

Grams and Rogers (1989) examined influence tactics and personality characteristics and found that the choice of influence tactic differs dramatically according to whether a person is high or low in the Machiavellian disposition. Individuals with a high Machiavellian disposition are more motivated to succeed, more assertive, and less manipulative. Additionally, resistance from the target changes the leader’s influence strategy. Those high in the Machiavellian disposition prefer to use indirect (emotion) and non-rational (reward) persuasion techniques. High Machiavellians display positive emotional techniques (flattery, friendliness) that aid in their influence attempts. Individuals high in Machiavellianism want to succeed by using the least obtrusive means possible but are willing to resort to stronger or harder tactics if necessary.

Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism

Relations of the “Dark Triad” personality traits—Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism—with the variables of the Five-Factor Model and the HEXACO model of personality structure

Why women really do love self-obsessed psychopaths

The dark triad of traits are the self-obsession of narcissism, the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of psychopaths and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism. “We have some evidence these traits may represent a successful evolutionary strategy,” Dr Jonason told New Scientist magazine.

It’s all in the behavioural-genetics

Why the brain follows the rules?

By Caroline Zink

People are incredibly social beings, and we rely heavily on our interactions with others to thrive, and even survive, in the world. To avoid chaos in these interactions, humans create social norms. These rules and regulations establish appropriate and acceptable ways for us to act and respond to each other. For instance, when waiting in line, we expect people also to wait their turn. As a result, we get upset when someone decides to cut in line: they violated a social norm.

But how are social norms maintained?  And what makes us comply with social norms? Primarily, the answer is that, if we don’t follow the rules, we might get in trouble. Numerous studies demonstrate that, when the threat of punishment is removed, people tend to disregard social norms. The neat and orderly line disintegrates.

It remains unclear, however, how the brain processes the threat of punishment when deciding whether or not to comply with a social norm. A recent study conducted by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer and his colleagues at the University of Ulm in Germany and the University of Zurich in Switzerland tried to shed light on this mystery. The researchers put 24 healthy male students in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to see what parts of the brain were activated during a two-person social exchange with real monetary stakes.

In this game, a research participant (“Person A”) was given money, and had to decide how much he wanted to give to another person (“Person B”) and how much he wanted to keep. In one variation of the game—the “punishment threat condition”—Person B could punish Person A if he or she believed that Person A had divided the money unfairly, or violated the “fairness social norm.” In another situation, there was no punishment threat and Person A could act freely without worrying about the consequences. The researchers sought to find out how much more money Person A would give to Person B under the threat of punishment, and what brain circuits are associated with this change in behavior.

Not surprisingly, the threat of punishment made people act more fairly. In the “punishment threat condition” people split the money close to equally. However, when Person B had no recourse, the people given the money acted very differently and gave away, on average, less than 10 percent of the money.

One of the interesting things about social norm compliance, however, is that there is tremendous individual variation. Some people would never cut in line or act unfairly, whereas others don’t think twice about it. Using a questionnaire, the researchers measured each participant’s “Machiavellism,” a combination of selfishness and opportunism, which is often used to describe someone’s tendency to manipulate other people for personal gain. Sure enough, the people with high Machiavellism scores gave less money away when there was no punishment threat and were best at avoiding punishment when the threat of punishment was present. Therefore, these individuals earned the most money overall.

When the researchers looked at the brain activity of people playing this simple game, they found a consistent pattern. One region in the frontal lobes, the orbitofrontal cortex, seemed to be responsible for evaluating the potential for punishment. In other words, it figured out whether or not violating the social norm would get us in trouble. A second brain region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was responsible for inhibiting the natural tendency to keep most of the money (this would be the greedy thing to do) if this action might lead to future punishment. Interestingly, these brain areas only were activated when the threat of punishment came from a real person, and not a computer that was programmed to act like a real person.

Furthermore, just as Machiavellism personality traits influenced how people behave, these traits also relate to what is happening in the brain. The orbitofrontal cortex was most activated in the more self-interested, opportunistic people. This finding makes sense because, if the orbitofrontal cortex is helping people detect and evaluate threats, then it should be most active in people who are worried about getting punished. This study can also help us understand what might be happening in the brains of people who struggle to follow social norms, which is what happens in mental illnesses such as psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder.

Of course, many different variables not studied in this experiment can also affect social norm compliance. Even a norm as seemingly straightforward as “fairness” can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. The social norm of fairness, after all, does not always mean an equal distribution of goods. Someone may deserve more based on effort, talent or simply the feeling of entitlement that comes from social status. For instance, one could argue that in the non-punishment situation, Person A was put in a position of power, because he or she was given complete control of the money. On the other hand, when Person B is given the right to punish Person A, Person B is now put in a superior position of power. And accordingly, the social norm for Person A changes: it is no longer acceptable for him to keep all the money for himself. This adjustment suggests that the brain activity evident in the Spitzer study could, in part, be related to changes in power and status between the punishment and non-punishment condition. In fact, in a recent study, we found that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was more activated when interacting with a person who is in superior social position.

 Damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in humans has been associated with disinhibited or socially inappropriate behaviour and emotional changes. Some of the changes may be related to difficulty in responding correctly to rewards and punishers, in that these patients have difficulty in learning to correct their choice of a visual stimulus when it is no longer associated with reward. We extend this fundamental approach by investigating the relationship between frontal dysfunction and impulsive behaviour, the behavioural, emotional and personality changes seen in patients with prefrontal cortex damage, and thus in addition illuminate the cognitive and biological processes that are impaired in impulsive people. OFC patients (n = 23) performed more impulsively on both self-report and cognitive/behavioural tests of impulsivity, reported more inappropriate ‘frontal’ behaviours, and performed worse on a stimulus-reinforcement association reversal task, than non-OFC prefrontal cortex lesion control (n = 20) and normal control (n = 39) participants. Further, OFC patients experienced more subjective anger than non-OFC and normal participants, and less subjective happiness than normals; and had a faster subjective sense of time (overestimated and underproduced time intervals) than normal controls, while non-OFC patients did not differ from normals. Finally, both OFC and non-OFC patients were less open to experience than normal participants. There were no differences between OFC patients, non-OFC lesion patients and normal controls on all other personality traits, most notably extraversion. In a spatial working memory task, the non-OFC group, most of whom had dorsolateral prefrontal cortex lesions, were impaired in that they repeatedly returned to previously chosen empty locations (‘within errors’), whereas OFC patients were not impaired on this measure. Thus there is a dissociation between the effects of OFC damage which does not affect this measure of spatial working memory but does affect impulsive and inappropriate behaviour, reversal, personality, time perception and emotion; and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex damage which does affect this measure of spatial working memory, but not impulsive and inappropriate behaviour, reversal, personality, time perception and emotion. The effects of OFC damage on impulsive and related behaviours described here have implications for understanding impulsive behaviour.

Orbitofrontal Cortex and Social Behavior: Integrating Self-monitoring and Emotion–Cognition Interactions

By Jennifer S. Beer, Oliver P. John, Donatella Scabini and Robert T. Knight

The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in social behavior remains a puzzle. Various theories of the social functions of the orbitofrontalcortex focus on the role of this area in either emotional processing or its involvement in onlinemonitoring of behavior (i.e., self-monitoring). The present research attempts to integrate these two theories by examining whether improving the self-monitoring of patients with orbitofrontaldamage is associated with the generation of emotions needed to guide interpersonal behavior. Patients with orbitofrontal damage, patients with lateral prefrontal damage, and healthy controls took part in an interpersonal task. After completing the task, participants’ self-monitoring was increased by showing them a videotape of their task performance. In comparison to healthy controls and patients with lateral prefrontal damage, orbitofrontaldamage was associated with objectively inappropriate social behavior. Although patients with orbitofrontaldamage were aware of social norms of intimacy, they were unaware that their task performance violated these norms. The embarrassment typically associated with inappropriate social behavior was elicited in these patients only after their self-monitoring increased from viewing their videotaped performance. These findings suggest that damage to the orbitofrontalcortex impairs self-insight that may preclude the generation of helpful emotional information. The results highlight the role of the orbitofrontal cortex in the interplay of self-monitoring and emotional processing and suggest avenues for neurorehabilitation of patients with social deficits subsequent to orbitofrontal damage.

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Another trip hop  band i like a lot (they did some good stuff with Massive Attack)

Portishead – Mysterons

 

Inside your pretending
Crimes have been swept aside
Somewhere where they can forget

Divine upper reaches
Still holding on
This ocean will not be grasped
All for nothing

Did you really want

Refuse to surrender
Strung out until ripped apart
Who dares, dares to condemn
All for nothing

Did you really want

 

 

 

July 17, 2008 Posted by | brain, mind, neurology, neuroscience, Politics, psychology, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psychology of power: What drives this powerful men? And where are they driving us?

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (Salvador Dali)

This post is tribute to Bush’s visit of our country today 

Having power makes people more likely to act like sociopaths. People with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes, a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior.”

The movie, The Experiment  (Experiment, Das, 2001),  shocked me a lot when i firstly saw it. I’ve heard as psychology student before about Stanford Prison Experiment, where Philip Zimbardo randomly assigned Stanford undergraduates to act as prison guards or prisoners—an extreme kind of power relation. The prison guards quickly descended into the purest forms of power abuse, psychologically torturing their peers, the prisoners. Movie is well done story about this experiment.

Social system determines our behaviour in a big way. Every position in social system has internally defined code of behaviour toward others and toward self as well. Was writing lately how our brain is great organ but so vulnerable and it generalise and simplifies so fast. Before we even know we are caught (see post: Brain makes decision before we even know it). We behave as we think that is required to behave on that position/role. Code of behaviour specifically role requires could be obtained from parents, peers, media.

Why most of the people tend to submise in front of person on position of power?  Is it conditional response?  Why there is so many stupid bosses who manage smart employees? What kind of aura does  bring position?  Subordinate or boss  has clear meaning of category and responses to it in our mind. We’ve been learned about this from early childhood on. You have to respect the president, you have to respect boss.  Why? Is he/she worth of respect? Of following?  No, he/she symply deserve respect because is a president, boss, …Pure tautology. Political language is full of tautologies as well.

What is their drive? How they’ve come there? What is their psychological structure? How would they behave if they would be put back, quite low on social system hierarchy?

Does position corrupt or corrupted people seek for position? Is it possible that lack of empathy and ego-centrism, lack of mature consciousness, enviousness, competitiveness and grandiosness of this people show that our civilization is ruled by nuts with substantial Narcissistic personality’s disorder? They are builders of social system and its rules and roles. Is that why the whole civilisation shift itself into narcissism? (see narcisstic personality disorder traits). The last video, guy hit by car, left on the street, is typical example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQjdaEUcTAE

Video about Bush Family Fortune or “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”(Lord Acton)

Very good article: Power is not only an aphrodisiac, it does weird things to some of us

Vicki Haddock, Insight Staff Writer

Why is it said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? What is it about the psychology of power that leads people to behave differently — and too often, badly?

Those are some of the questions intriguing a group of social scientists, many of them at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. In the past few years, their research has zeroed in on what an intoxicating elixir power can be.

And one thing has become clear: The phrase “drunk with power” is often a dead-on description. These new studies show that power acts to lower inhibitions, much the same as alcohol does.

“It explains why powerful people act with great daring and sometimes behave rather like gorillas,” said psychologist Cameron Anderson, assistant professor at UC Berkeley who has studied power dynamics.

Some evidence also suggests a physiological component: that powerful people experience an adrenaline rush, not unlike that of someone in an emergency who is suddenly able to lift an automobile. Research on monkeys indicates that their levels of serotonin change when they move into the dominant alpha position.

“Disinhibition is the very root of power,” said Stanford Professor Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist who focuses on the study of power. “For most people, what we think of as ‘power plays’ aren’t calculated and Machiavellian — they happen at the subconscious level. Many of those internal regulators that hold most of us back from bold or bad behavior diminish or disappear. When people feel powerful, they stop trying to ‘control themselves.’ “

So when movie star Mel Gibson told the police officer who pulled him over that he “owned” Malibu and that Jews were the source of all the wars in the history of the world, it’s hard to know whether to attribute his irrational hubris to the effects of power or drunkenness, or both.

Research documents the following characteristics of people with power: They tend to be more oblivious to what others think, more likely to pursue the satisfaction of their own appetites, poorer judges of other people’s reactions, more likely to hold stereotypes, overly optimistic and more likely to take risks.

LBJ biographer Robert Caro observed that power doesn’t corrupt; it reveals. Research by UC Berkeley psychology Professor Serena Chen suggests that people who are naturally selfish grow even more selfish if they attain power, while people who are naturally selfless and giving become more so with power.

“I enjoy teaching classes that get students to think more positively about power,” said Roderick Kramer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford who has studied the biographies of hundreds of powerful people. He notes the flip side of power — that the lowering of inhibitions frees the powerful to shake up organizations, fearlessly challenge the status quo, do the right thing regardless of unpopularity, and follow a more daring vision. Could preacher Martin Luther King Jr. have so profoundly inspired the civil rights movement, could New Jersey homemaker Martha Stewart have become a marketing maven, could a former Austrian bodybuilder have become the governor of California without coasting on the inhibition-lowering fumes of power along the way?

This orientation is exponentially enhanced by the fact that others react differently, more deferentially, to powerful people. Henry Kissinger discerned that power is “the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

The result, as Kramer notes, is that powerful people are likely to find that every mirror held up to them says, in effect, you are the fairest of them all.

Journalist Bob Woodward tells an instructive story about President Bush in his new book “State of Denial.” Gen. Jay Garner, the outgoing chief of post-war planning in Iraq, had determined that the United States was making three big, tragic mistakes, including disbanding the Iraqi army. He met with Bush intending to lay it on the line, and instead ended up telling the intellectually incurious president that he is positively beloved in Iraq, while Bush jokes about how perhaps his next assignment will be the invasion of Iran. Garner says he would prefer Cuba — better rum and cigars, prettier women.

“Of course with all the stories, jocularity, buddy-buddy talk, bluster and confidence in the Oval Office, Garner had left out the headline,” Woodward writes. “He had not mentioned the problems he saw, or even hinted at them. He did not tell Bush about the three tragic mistakes. Once again, the aura of the presidency had shut out the most important news — the bad news. It was only one example of a visitor to the Oval Office not telling the president the whole story or the truth … The whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court … exaggerated good news, and a good time had by all.”

The point, Kramer would argue, is not just that power reveals but also that it changes people. Such transformation explains why so many powerful people, imbued with talent, luck and leadership skills, tumble in flames like Icarus. The only way to truly harness power is first to understand what it does to you — in other words, the consequences of lowered inhibitions.

One of the simplest and yet most fascinating experiments to test the thesis is the “cookie crumbles” experiment. Researchers placed college students in groups of three and gave them an artificial assignment — collaboration on a short policy paper about a social issue. They then randomly assigned one of the students to evaluate the other two for points that would affect their ability to win a cash bonus. Having set up this artificial power hierarchy, researchers then casually brought to working trios plates containing five cookies.

They found that not only did the disinhibited “powerful” students eat more than their share of the cookies, they were more likely to chew with their mouths open and to scatter crumbs over the table.

Gruenfeld offers a similar example from her career in journalism when she occasionally met with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. She recalls that he routinely would swig vodka from a bottle and eat raw onions — without ever offering to share — “and it never even occurred to the rest of us, because it was understood that he had the power and we did not.”

Studies show that while people with less status tend to stand or sit more primly in social and professional situations, powerful people actually stretch out and take up more physical space.

And they take liberties in other ways as well, indulging their childish impulses. Some exercise sexual prerogatives over those less powerful, with the involvement of former Rep. Mark Foley with congressional pages being but the latest example. Some rack up a preposterous number of possessions: Among the bribes former San Diego Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham took was a yacht he christened the Duke-stir, while former Tyco Chief Executive Officer Dennis Kozlowski charged home furnishings to his company, including a $2,000 trash can and a $15,000 umbrella stand.

Other power seekers relish the psychological satisfaction suggested by novelist Amy Tan’s definition of power: “holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them.” The abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and other atrocities demonstrate a power effect documented three decades ago in Stanford psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo’s simulated jail scenario: Students placed in authority grew increasingly repressive and abusive over their “subjects.”

One study of the kings of England reported that those rulers with the greatest power were far more likely to commit crimes — from theft to murder — than ordinary citizens. A similar impulse may have propelled decisionmakers at Hewlett-Packard to try to plug information leaks by spying on board members and on journalists covering the company.

Another symptom of power is reduced awareness of the way you are perceived by others. Again, research shows that powerful people are less able to accurately read the verbal and facial cues of those around them, and thus more likely to misjudge how they are coming off. Instead of focusing outward, they tend to see others as merely orbiting around them.

One illustrative experiment asked subjects to draw a capital E on their foreheads with a washable marker. The hypothesis was that powerful people, because they care less about how they are perceived, would be less likely to write the E as if someone else would be reading it — and sure enough, the powerful tended to draw E’s in a way that was proper from their perspective but backward to onlookers.

This symptom of power can be ominous: As leaders grow more oblivious to the perceptions of others, they can become dangerously isolated and start to see people merely as means to their own ends. The parables of such isolation abound in history: Movie audiences can watch the downfalls of two very different examples in the French queen Marie Antoinette and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Another axiom of the powerful is that they take risks more than others. Such risk-taking is often richly rewarded, but at some point overconfidence can be disastrous.

When Anderson at UC and co-author Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University undertook a series of studies about the powerful, they discovered that not only were people in power more optimistic about their odds of success, but they underestimated the dangers even in areas over which they had no power whatsoever. In experiments, people made to feel powerful were more likely to minimize their chances of being affected by an accident, more likely to gamble on a lower blackjack hand, more likely to reveal vulnerable information in a job interview, even more likely to engage in sex without a condom, than were people with less power.

“The bottom line is that people in power act in more cavalier ways,” Anderson said. “They really do believe that they’re not going to get caught, and they start to see themselves as above the law. And we know how that turns out …”

So what is required to remain uncorrupted — to handle power with grace?

The experts say that to remain grounded, it takes a deliberate effort, a sense of humor about yourself and a willingness to become more, not less, reflective. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama says he gains more insights into the needs of constituents by flying in coach. High-flying investor Warren Buffet still lives in Omaha in a house that cost $31,000, and continues to play bridge with his same cadre of friends. Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were masters at a self-deprecating wit that served them well.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity,” said Abraham Lincoln, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

http://www.prisonexp.org/pdf/powerevil.pdf

June 9, 2008 Posted by | conspiracy, Daily bites, Documentary, Movies, neuroscience, Politics, psychology, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments