Power without status glories in demeaning others

September 21st, 2011 - 4:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 21 (IANS) People who possess power but lack status tend to engage in activities that demean others, says a new study.

That explains why the government clerk is so rude and condescending, or why the mid-level manager always assigns you the most demeaning tasks or even why the guards at Abu Ghraib tortured and humiliated prisoners.

Said Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of management at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, who led the study: “Put simply, it feels bad to be in a low status position and the power that goes with that role gives them a way to take action on those negative feelings.”

Fast, Nir Halevy from the University of Southern California and Adam Galinsk from Kellogg School conducted an experiment with students.

They were told to interact with a fellow student after being randomly assigned a high-status ‘Idea Producer’ role or low-status ‘Worker’ role, according to a University of Southern California statement.

Then these individuals were asked to select activities from a list of 10 for the others to perform — some of the tasks being more demeaning than others, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports.

The experiment demonstrated that “individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog three times) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles”.

Possessing power in the absence of status may have contributed to the acts committed by US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, the study suggests.

That incident was reminiscent of behaviours during the famous Stanford Prison Experiment with undergraduate students that went awry in the early 1970s.

In both cases the guards had power but they lacked respect and admiration in the eyes of others and treated prisoners in extremely demeaning ways.

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