The Loh Down On Science

Powerful research

Is power black and white? Or fifty shades of gray?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California. He's noticed a pattern among his MBA students. Those who seem to feel more powerful display more absolute thinking about right and wrong.

Is there a connection?

To find out, Wiltermuth gathered 49 volunteers. He "primed" some to feel powerful. How? By asking them to recount their most Schwarzenegger-ish moment.

Next, each read a series of hypothetical scenarios. One described the way a boss went about hiring a new employee.

Last, each person was asked if the incident’s outcome was ethical. They could only answer "yes," "no," or "it depends."

Result? Powerful participants chose yes or no. Less powerful participants said, "It depends."

What’s more, in later tests, the powerful suggested harsher punishments for hypothetical infractions.

Wiltermuth says feeling powerful seems to heightens one’s sense of moral clarity, warranted or not. In other words, the powerful are more convinced they’re right.

Which explains the confidence Donald Trump has in his combover! Warranted or not.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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