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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

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