Thursday, December 18, 2008

They just don't care

Are Power and Compassion
Mutually Exclusive?

APS: Psychologist Gerben A. van Kleef (University of Amsterdam) and his colleagues from University of California, Berkeley, examined how power influences emotional reactions to the suffering of others... The results, reported in the December issue of Psychological Science... reveal that individuals with a higher sense of power experienced less compassion and distress when confronted with another's suffering, compared to low-power individuals. In addition,... high power participants showed more autonomic emotion regulation, which buffered against their partner's distress.

Analysis of the participants' final surveys (where they rated their thoughts about their partners) revealed that high-power individuals reported a weaker desire to get to know and establish a friendship with their partner... Powerful people were not motivated to establish a relationship with distressed individuals. This idea is supported by the fact that the distressed participants reported less of a social connection with high-power partners compared to low-power partners. The authors suggest that powerful people's tendency to show less compassion and distress towards others reinforces their social power.

These results do not just apply to how powerful people react to strangers; the authors note that this study 'suggests that high-power individuals may suffer in interpersonal relationships because of their diminished capacity for compassion and empathy. The many benefits enjoyed by people with power may not translate to the interpersonal realm.'
Image source here.