Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?

Date:
December 23, 2008
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
A new study reveals that individuals with a higher sense of power experience less compassion and distress when confronted with another's suffering, compared to low-power individuals. In addition, powerful people were not motivated to establish a relationship with distressed individuals. The authors suggest that powerful people's tendency to show less compassion and distress towards others reinforces their social power.

Individuals with a higher sense of power experienced less compassion and distress when confronted with another's suffering, compared to low-power individuals, a new study suggests.
Credit: iStockphoto/Nicole Waring

The fact that many cultures emphasize the concept of “noblesse oblige” (the idea that with great power and prestige come responsibilities) suggests that power may diminish a tendency to help others. 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.

Related Articles


A group of undergraduates completed questionnaires about their personal sense of power, which identified them to the researchers as either being high-power or low-power. The students were then randomly paired up and had to tell their partner about an event which had caused them emotional suffering and pain. Their partners then rated their emotions after hearing the story. In addition, the researchers were interested in seeing if there were physical differences in the way high-power people and low-power people responded to others’ suffering; specifically they wanted to test if high-powered individuals would exhibit greater autonomic emotion regulation [or respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) reactivity]. When we are faced with psychological stress, our RSA reactivity increases, resulting in a lower heart rate and a calmed, relaxed feeling. To measure RSA reactivity and heart rates, all of the participants were connected to electrocardiogram (ECG) machines during the experiment.

The results, reported in the December issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for 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 individuals’ RSA reactivity increased (as indicated by lower heart rate) as they listened to the painful stories; that is, 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. In other words, 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.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124154.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2008, December 23). Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124154.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124154.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) It has been a long, busy year for Net Neutrality. The stage is set for an expected landmark FCC decision sometime in 2015. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
White House: Sony Hack a 'serious National Security Matter'

White House: Sony Hack a 'serious National Security Matter'

AFP (Dec. 18, 2014) White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says cyber attacks that ultimately prompted Sony Pictures to scrap the release of a madcap comedy about North Korea are a "serious national security matter." Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins