Ever had a buddy who was promoted ahead of you turn into sort of a dick? Even worse, have you been that person? According to neurologists, power changes how the brain operates.
A new study (pdf warning) published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology argues that the brains of powerful people are less capable of empathy than others. To test their theory, researchers randomly put participants into the mind set of either the powerful or powerless by having them write journal entries describing either times they were in charge or times they depended on others for support.
Then, the participants watched a video of a hand squeezing a ball several times. During this, the researchers monitored a part of the participants brains called the mirror system. The mirror system activates both when you do something and when you watch someone else do something. Normally, the mirror system activates when you squeeze a ball, but also when you watch someone else do so; as a result, some neuroscientists argue that it’s an important system for understanding the actions of others.
Which brings us back to the video. Those who were powerless felt an excessive amount of empathy while watching the simple video, and those who were powerful felt considerably less. According to the researchers, this suggests that those put in positions of power literally have a difficult time imagining themselves in another’s position.
So, the next time your boss asks you to kneel down and act as his footstool, rest assured that he feels nothing at all for you.