How power corrupts: The scientific evidence

Psychological research has confirmed what philosophers have said—that power corrupts.

Click on these links for details on their findings.

Power makes you hypocritical.

Power makes you arrogant and inconsiderate of others.

Power and self-absorption go hand-in-hand, Feeling powerful makes it easier to lie, and Experiments show that power and hypocrisy are linked in the brain.

Power gives you a false belief in your abilities, and Feelings of power trigger a lack of compassion.

Underlings with power like to demean others.

Power is (literally) addictive.

Here’s the problem as I see it.  Power does corrupt.  Our political system and our economic system give the most power to the people who are hungriest for power, and that’s a bad thing.  But in a complex society, I don’t see how you can get away from the need for power structures.

In my life, I’ve met many people who handle power poorly.  I’m one of them.  I’m not a good supervisor of other people and, once I came to realize this, I’ve avoided supervisory positions.  But I’ve also met and taken orders from people who handle power well—school teachers and college professors, Army officers and NCOs, editors and publishers, people who were firm but fair, people who knew what they were doing but never pretended to know more than they did.  What is it that makes some people trustworthy wielders of power and others not?

Maybe the distinction is between those whose power comes from respect and those whose power comes from fear.  My father taught me that respect has to be earned.  No matter what your position, he said, you need to show people you measure up to the responsibilities of that position.  People who understand their power is based on respect will behave in a different way than people who think that respect should be automatic or that their power frees them from responsibility.

I think there are two great lies about power.  One is that there are certain people whose power is so great that they can abuse that power and never suffer any consequences.  Another is that there are certain people who are so powerless that it is possible to abuse them and never suffer any consequences.

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One Response to “How power corrupts: The scientific evidence”

  1. informationforager Says:

    Very, very good. Even now at my ripe old age I find the contradiction of wanting to avoid power and doing everything possible to avoid being simultaneously powerless.

    I’ve found a couple of techniques about the powerful that really irk me.

    1. The powerful can usually take the heat. Favorite trick: be as obtuse as possible.

    2. Stall and stiff-arm the inititives of others.

    3. Pooh-pooh the initiatives of others and extrapolate your own as being all wonderful and meaningful.

    4. Never join a losing fight, if you do need to take a stance then take care to side with the clear majority.

    5. In a democracy never push an enemy down unless they are already falling. If you are in a dictatorship
    then you already possess the absolute power to crush them.

    The powerful are really only good at one thing and that is WINNING ALL THE TIME.



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