Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Feeling powerless increases the weight of the world ... literally

Date:
February 3, 2014
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
New research shows that the more personally and socially powerless you feel the heavier objects appear to weigh. Scientists have found that people who feel powerless actually see the world differently, and find a task to be more physically challenging than those with a greater sense of personal and social power.

New research shows that the more personally and socially powerless you feel the heavier objects appear to weigh.
Credit: Sergey Nivens / Fotolia

New research shows that the more personally and socially powerless you feel the heavier objects appear to weigh.

Scientists have found that people who feel powerless actually see the world differently, and find a task to be more physically challenging than those with a greater sense of personal and social power.

Eun Hee Lee -- a researcher working with Dr Simone Schnall at Cambridge's Department of Psychology -- carried out a series of tests in which volunteers were surreptitiously surveyed about their own social power, then asked to lift boxes of varying weights and guess how heavy they were. Those who felt powerless consistently perceived the weight of the boxes as much heavier than those who felt more powerful.

The study is the first demonstration that power -- a 'psychosocial' construct relating to the control of resources -- changes peoples' perception of objects; that how you feel about your social standing in a situation can influence how you see the physical environment.

The researchers say this overestimation of weight may be an adaptive strategy when faced with a lack of resources: when in a position of powerlessness, it would be 'advantageous' to have an overly cautious approach to the world in order to preserve your existing limited resources.

Experiencing perceptual attributes of the world -- such as the weight of objects -- in an "exaggerated fashion" when feeling powerless might be symptomatic of this instinctive resource conservation.

The study is published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

"Although many psychological studies have been conducted on power not much was known about how power influences actual perceptual experiences in everyday life," said lead researcher Eun Hee Lee.

"This research demonstrates that people's social role, as indicated by a sense of social power, or a lack therefore, can change the way they see the physical environment."

To measure a person's sense of their own social power, Lee and Schnall conducted three separate studies -- all disguised by cover stories so that participants were unaware of what was being tested.

In the first, 145 participants were asked to rank how strongly they felt a series of statements applied to them -- such as "I can get people to listen to what I say" -- to measure beliefs about their power in social relationships. They were then tasked with lifting a number of boxes and guessing the weight, before taking a final test to gauge their mood. Researchers found that the lower a person's feelings of social power, the more they thought the boxes weighed.

In the second test, the researchers manipulated the sense of power by asking 41 participants to sit in either an expansive, domineering position -- with one elbow on the arm of their chair and the other on the desk next to them -- or a more constricting one, with hands tucked under thighs and shoulders dropped.

Prior to manipulation, most participants overestimated the weight; after manipulation, those who sat in the more powerful pose gave more accurate estimates, while those in the submissive condition continued to imagine heavier weight.

In the final test, 68 participants were asked to recall an experience in which they had felt either powerful or powerless, and then repeatedly estimate the weights of various boxes -- under the guise of studying the effect of exercise on autobiographical memory. Those who focused on the powerful incident became more accurate at guessing the weight, while those recalling a powerless situation continually overestimated the heaviness of the boxes.

While previous research has shown that various physical and emotional states can influence perception of the environment -- such as perceiving a hill slant to be steeper when wearing a heavy backpack, or threatening objects, such as a tarantula, appearing to be further from your face when feeling good about yourself -- this is the first study to show that a sense of power can now be added to that list.

Giulio Andreotti, the former Italian Prime Minister who was nicknamed 'Il Divo' after the epithet for Julius Caesar, famously once said that "power tires only those who do not have it." Lee and Schnall write that this comment is "no longer an unsubstantiated conjecture," and that their data suggests the world of the powerless "is indeed full of heavy burdens."

Added Lee: "Power plays a role when it is present in a given moment, but also when it comes to people's personality. We find that personality, which determines how people interact with the social world, also shapes how people interact with the physical world."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eun Hee Lee, Simone Schnall. The Influence of Social Power on Weight Perception.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2014; DOI: 10.1037/a0035699

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Feeling powerless increases the weight of the world ... literally." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191735.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2014, February 3). Feeling powerless increases the weight of the world ... literally. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191735.htm
University of Cambridge. "Feeling powerless increases the weight of the world ... literally." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191735.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A study published in the journal "Neurology" interviewed more than 19,000 people and found 15 percent suffer from being "sleep drunk." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A new study found fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But experts disagree on the results. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

AP (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Heart Association's first policy statement on electronic cigarettes backs them as a last resort to help smokers quit and calls for more regulation to keep them away from youth. (Aug. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Newsy (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Academy of Pediatrics is the latest group pushing for middle schools and high schools to start later, for the sake of their kids. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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