The Effects of Power on the Human Mind


They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but does a little bit of power corrupt just a little bit? Well, if we broaden our definition of corruption to include a souring of one’s formerly glowing personality, then yes. A new study from Sukhvinder Obhi, a Canadian neuroscientist, has shown a direct chemical link between feelings of power and a decrease in empathy. In the experiments, the test subjects were asked to either write diary entries about when they felt powerful or when they felt powerless.

Then, they were made to watch a fairly innocuous video clip (a ball getting squeezed over and over again) while hooked up to devices that measured activity in the brain regions associated with the mirror system, the neural pathways where we feel empathy. Unsurprisingly to anyone who’s experienced some bluntness from a newly promoted colleague, the empathic response from the test subjects who were filled with memories of an empowering situation was very low. This test and others have led researchers to believe that feelings of power over others limits a person’s ability to relate to another’s perspective. To read the full article from npr.org or hear the podcast, click the link below.

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