Associated Associate Professor of Public Service, NYU Wagner; Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, NYU Stern School of Business
My research revolves around the roles of hierarchy in organizations and society. I have investigated how power differences transform the way people think and behave and how people figure out who has power over whom. My colleagues and I have discovered a series of reliable changes in the psychology of power-holders that seem to be potentially damaging for relationships, organizations, and society but, under certain conditions, actually can contribute to interpersonal and institutional effectiveness. I am also interested in the neuroscience underpinning various kinds of social judgments and the social role of emotion in groups.
At the Wagner School, I teach Managing Public Service Organizations, Power and Influence in Organizations and Politics, and the Capstone Advanced Team Seminar. At the Stern School, I teach Power and Professional Influence to full-time and part-time MBA students.
I have worked on issues of organizational strategy and structure, power and politics, conflict and negotiation, motivation, and organizational culture with various organizations including The United States Conference of Mayors, The National Association of Counties, and the Department of Transportation, Parks and Recreation, and Intergovernmental Affairs in the NYC government.
Power is a psychological accelerator, propelling people toward their goals; however, these goals are often egocentrically focused. Perspective-taking is a psychological steering wheel that helps people navigate their social worlds; however, perspective-taking needs a catalyst to be effective. The current research explores whether combining power with perspective-taking can lead to fairer interpersonal treatment and higher quality decisions by increasing other-oriented information sharing, the propensity to communicate and integrate information that recognizes the knowledge and interests of others. Experiments 1 and 2 found that the combining power with perspective-taking or accountability increased interactional justice, the tendency for decision makers to explain their decisions candidly and respectfully. Experiment 3 involved role-based power embedded in a face-to-face dyadic decision-making task; the combination of power and perspective-taking facilitated the sharing of critical information and led to more accurate dyadic decisions. Combining power and perspective-taking had synergistic effects, producing superior outcomes to what each one achieved separately.
The negotiation of social order is intimately connected to the capacity to infer and track status relationships. Despite the foundational role of status in social cognition, we know little about how the brain constructs status from social interactions that display it. Although emerging cognitive neuroscience reveals that status judgments depend on the intraparietal sulcus, a brain region that supports the comparison of targets along a quantitative continuum, we present evidence that status judgments do not necessarily reduce to ranking targets along a quantitative continuum. The process of judging status also fits a social interdependence analysis. Consistent with third-party perceivers judging status by inferring whose goals are dictating the terms of the interaction and who is subordinating their desires to whom, status judgments were associated with increased recruitment of medial pFC and STS, brain regions implicated in mental state inference.
This chapter offers a comprehensive review of the psychology of power. We examine past waves of social psychological investigations into power, detail the current wave of power research that has exploded in the past decade, and capture emerging themes likely to develop into the next wave of research on power. Our review is structured around a detailed conceptual framework for understanding how power operates within and between people. Specifically, we identify the antecedents of a subjective sense of power (the structural, experiential, semantic, and physical manipulations) and the downstream effects of this sense of power on cognition, self and social perception, interpersonal behavior, motivation, emotion, and physiology. We also highlight critical moderators (e.g., individual differences, culture, status, legitimacy and stability) which influence a) whether an antecedent of power produces a sense of power or b) whether the sense of power produces a particular outcome. Finally, we review theories that account for how power guides and directs behavior and use these theories as a springboard to set an agenda for future research, including identifying factors that harness the positive consequences of power while mitigating its deleterious social effects.
Previous research has found that power increases awareness of goal-relevant over goal-irrelevant information. However, this work has failed to distinguish between goal-facilitating and goal-inhibiting information, both of which are goal relevant. The current research investigated whether power increases the cognitive resources devoted to goal-facilitating information or reduces the cognitive resources devoted to goal-constraining information. Two experiments found that, compared to low-power individuals, high-power individuals recalled less goal-constraining information and generated fewer potential constraints that would prevent the protagonist of a story from completing his goal. However, there was no difference between the powerful and powerless in their recall or generation of goal-facilitating information. These results suggest that the powerful are more likely to act on their goals because the constraints that normally inhibit action are less psychologically present for them.
We propose that asymmetric dependence between individuals (i.e., power) produces asymmetric social distance, with high-power individuals feeling more distant than low-power individuals. From this insight, we articulate predictions about how power affects (a) social comparison, (b) susceptibility to influence, (c) mental state inference and responsiveness, and (d) emotions. We then explain how high-power individuals’ greater experienced social distance leads them to engage in more abstract mental representation. This mediating process of construal level generates predictions about how power affects (a) goal selection and pursuit, (b) attention to desirability and feasibility concerns, (c) subjective certainty, (d) value-behavior correspondence, (e) self-control, and (f) person perception. We also reassess the approach/inhibition theory of power (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003), noting limitations both in what it can predict and in the evidence directly supporting its proposed mechanisms. Finally, we discuss moderators and methodological recommendations for the study of power from a social distance perspective.
The present research examined how a group's gender composition influences intragroup evaluations. Group members evaluated fellow group members and the group as a whole following a shared task. As predicted, no performance differences were found as a function of gender composition, but judgments of individuals’ task contributions, the group's effectiveness, and desire to work with one's group again measured at a 10-week follow-up were increasingly negative as the proportion of women in the group increased. Negative judgments were consistently directed at male and female group members as indicated by no gender of target effects, demonstrating that men, simply by working alongside women, can be detrimentally affected by negative stereotypes about women. Implications for gender diversity in the workplace are discussed.
Faulty and dysfunctional incentive systems have long interested, and frustrated, managers and organizational scholars alike. In this analysis, we pick up where Kerr (1975) left off and advance an explanation for why bad incentive systems are so prevalent in organizations. We propose that one contributing factor lies in the psychology of people who occupy managerial roles. Although designing effective incentive systems is a challenge wrought with perils for anyone, we believe the psychological consequences and correlates of higher rank within organizations make the challenge more severe for managers. Patterns of promotion and hiring typically yield managers that are more competent than their employees, and ascending to management positions increases individuals' workload and power. In turn, these factors make managers more egocentrically anchored and cognitively abstract, while also reducing their available cognitive capacity for any given task, all of which we argue limits their ability to design effective incentives for employees. Thus, ironically, those with the power to design incentives may be those least able to effectively do so. We discuss four specific types of bad incentive systems that can arise from these psychological tendencies in managers: those that over-emphasize compensation, generate weak motivation, offer perverse motivation, or are misaligned with organizational culture.
In this research, we examine the relationship between power and three characteristics of construal-abstraction, valence, and certainty-in individuals' verbatim reactions to the events of September 11, 2001 and during the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. We conceptualize power as a form of social distance and find that position power (but not expert power) was positively associated with the use of language that was more abstract (vs. concrete), positive (vs. negative), and certain (vs. uncertain). These effects persist after controlling for temporal distance, geographic distance, and impression management motivation. Our results support central and corollary predictions of Construal Level Theory (Liberman, Trope, & Stephan, 2007; Trope & Liberman, 2003) in a high-consequence, real-world context, and our method provides a template for future research in this area outside of the laboratory.
During a conversation, it is common for a speaker to describe a third-party that the listener does not know. These professed impressions not only shape the listener's view of the third-party but also affect judgments of the speaker herself. We propose a previously unstudied consequence of professed impressions: judgments of the speaker's power. In two studies, we find that listeners ascribe more power to speakers who profess impressions focusing on a third-party's conscientiousness, compared to those focusing on agreeableness. We also replicate previous research showing that speakers saying positive things about third parties are seen as more agreeable than speakers saying negative things. In the second study, we demonstrate that conscientiousness-power effects are mediated by inferences about speakers' task concerns and positivity-agreeableness effects are mediated by inferences about speakers' other-enhancing concerns. Finally, we show that judgments of speaker status parallel judgments of agreeableness rather than of power, suggesting that perceivers use different processes to make inferences about status and power. These findings have implications for the literatures on person perception, power, and status.
Although deduction can be applied both to associations between nonsocial objects and to social relationships among people, the authors hypothesize that social targets elicit specialized cognitive mechanisms that facilitate inferences about social relations. Consistent with this view, in Experiments 1a and 1b the authors show that participants are more efficient and more accurate at inferring social relations compared to nonsocial relations. In Experiment 2 they find direct evidence for a specialized neural apparatus recruited specifically for social relational inferences. When making social inferences, functional magnetic resonance imaging results indicate that the brain regions that play a general role in logical reasoning (e.g., hippocampi,parietal cortices, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) are supplemented by regions that specialize in representing people's mental states (e.g., posterior superior temporal sulcus, temporo-parietal junction, and medial prefrontal cortex).
Six experiments investigate the hypothesis that social targets who display a greater action orientation are perceived as having more power (i.e., more control, less dependence, and more influence) than less action-oriented targets. I find evidence that this inference pattern is based on the pervasive belief that individuals with more power experience less constraint and have a greater capacity to act according to their own volition. Observers infer that targets have more power and influence when they exhibit more implementation than deliberation in the process of making decisions in their personal lives (Study 1a), in a public policy context (Study 1b), and in small groups (Study 2). In an organizational context, observers infer that a target who votes for a policy to change from the status quo has more power than a target who votes not to change from the status quo (Study 3). People also infer greater intra-organizational power and higher hierarchical rank in targets who take physical action toward a personal goal than in those who do not (Studies 4–5).
In two studies, we investigate the effects of individuals’ power motivation on decision-making. We distinguish between two types of power motivation [McClelland, D. C. (1970). The two faces of power. Journal of International Affairs, 24, 29–47; Winter, D. G. (1973). The power motive. New York: The Free Press] and demonstrate that both types of power motivation facilitate influential decision-making but that each type plays a different role in different contexts. In a conflict context (Study 1), individuals’ personalized (self-serving) power motivation was associated with antisocial decisions, and in a healthcare context (Study 2), individuals socialized (other-serving) power motivation was associated with prosocial decisions. Furthermore, the type of power motivation elicited in each context was associated with less perceived need to deliberate over the relevant policy decision. In separating out the independent effects of each type of power motivation, we are able to explain more variance in decision-making behavior across various contexts than in models using aggregate power motivation (personalized plus socialized).
In two studies, we investigate the effects of individuals' power motivation on decisionmaking. We distinguish between two types of power motivation [McClelland, D. C. (1970). The two faces of power. Journal of International Affairs, 24, 29-47; Winter, D. G. (1973). The power motive. New York: The Free Press] and demonstrate that both types of power motivation facilitate influential decision-making but that each type plays a different role in different contexts. In a conflict context (Study 1), individuals' personalized (selfserving) power motivation was associated with antisocial decisions, and in a healthcare context (Study 2), individuals socialized (other-serving) power motivation was associated with prosocial decisions. Furthermore, the type of power motivation elicited in each context was associated with less perceived need to deliberate over the relevant policy decision. In separating out the independent effects of each type of power motivation, we are able to explain more variance in decision-making behavior across various contexts than in models using aggregate power motivation (personalized plus socialized).
Although power is often conceptualized as the capacity to influence others, the current research explores whether power psychologically protects people from influence. In contrast to classic social psychological research demonstrating the strength of the situation in directing attitudes, expressions, and intentions, 5 experiments (using experiential primes, semantic primes, and role manipulations of power) demonstrate that the powerful (a) generate creative ideas that are less influenced by salient examples, (b) express attitudes that conform less to the expressed opinions of others, (c) are more influenced by their own social value orientation relative to the reputation of a negotiating opponent, and (d) perceive greater choice in making counterattitudinal statements. This last experiment illustrates that power is not always psychologically liberating; it can create internal conflict, arousing dissonance, and thereby lead to attitude change. Across the experiments, high-power participants were immune to the typical press of situations, with intrapsychic processes having greater sway than situational or interpersonal ones on their creative and attitudinal expressions.
Objectification has been defined historically as a process of subjugation whereby people, like objects, are treated as means to an end. The authors hypothesized that objectification is a response to social power that involves approaching useful social targets regardless of the value of their other human qualities. Six studies found that under conditions of power, approach toward a social target was driven more by the target's usefulness, defined in terms of the perceiver's goals, than in low-power and baseline conditions. This instrumental response to power, which was linked to the presence of an active goal, was observed using multiple instantiations of power, different measures of approach, a variety of goals, and several types of instrumental and noninstrumental target attributes. Implications for research on the psychology of power, automatic goal pursuit, and self-objectification theory are discussed.
Hierarchy is such a defining and pervasive feature of organizations that its forms and basic functions are often taken for granted in organizational research. In this review, we revisit some basic psychological and sociological elements of hierarchy and argue that status and power are two important yet distinct bases of hierarchical differentiation. We first define power and status and distinguish our definitions from previous conceptualizations. We then integrate a number of different literatures to explain why status and power hierarchies tend to be self-reinforcing. Power, related to one's control over valued resources, transforms individual psychology such that the powerful think and act in ways that lead to the retention and acquisition of power. Status, related to the respect one has in the eyes of others, generates expectations for behavior and opportunities for advancement that favor those with a prior status advantage. We also explore the role that hierarchy-enhancing belief systems play in stabilizing hierarchy, both from the bottom up and from the top down. Finally, we address a number of factors that we think are instrumental in explaining the conditions under which hierarchies change. Our framework suggests a number of avenues for future research on the bases, causes, and consequences of hierarchy in groups and organizations.
Five experiments investigated how the possession and experience of power affects the initiation of competitive interaction. In Experiments 1a and 1b, high-power individuals displayed a greater propensity to initiate a negotiation than did low-power individuals. Three additional experiments showed that power increased the likelihood of making the first move in a variety of competitive interactions. In Experiment 2, participants who were semantically primed with power were nearly 4 times as likely as participants in a control condition to choose to make the opening arguments in a debate competition scenario. In Experiment 3, negotiators with strong alternatives to a negotiation were more than 3 times as likely to spontaneously express an intention to make the first offer compared to participants who lacked any alternatives. Experiment 4 showed that high-power negotiators were more likely than low-power negotiators to actually make the first offer and that making the first offer produced a bargaining advantage.
The article presents information on the role of power in negotiation. Power could generate competition or conflict in negotiations, however, effective channelization of power helps in bringing the win-win situation to both the parties. Social psychologists have described power as lack of dependence on others. Individuals possessing power tend to have the approach related to the behavior that includes positive mood or searching for rewards in their environment. On the other hand, powerless individuals show a great deal of self-inhibition and fear towards potential threats. INSETS: WOMEN: INCREASE YOUR POWER AT THE TABLE;POWER ACROSS CULTURES.
Four experiments and a correlational study explored the relationship between power and perspective taking. In Experiment 1, participants primed with high power were more likely than those primed with low power to draw an E on their forehead in a self-oriented direction, demonstrating less of an inclination to spontaneously adopt another person's visual perspective. In Experiments 2a and 2b, high-power participants were less likely than low-power participants to take into account that other people did not possess their privileged knowledge, a result suggesting that power leads individuals to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point, insufficiently adjusting to others' perspectives. In Experiment 3, high-power participants were less accurate than control participants in determining other people's emotion expressions; these results suggest a power-induced impediment to experiencing empathy. An additional study found a negative relationship between individual difference measures of power and perspective taking. Across these studies, power was associated with a reduced tendency to comprehend how other people see, think, and feel.
This chapter begins to fill in a gap in the leadership literature by looking at the psychological experience of leaders. We assume most leaders possess power over those whom they lead, and we explicate a theory of how power affects cognition and behavior. First, power-holders' attention is focused on non-conscious and conscious goal-relevant information. Thus, power-holders interpret social information in relation to their goals. They are less likely to process social norms and standards of behavior that could impede progress toward goals, and they are more likely to see others in relation to their goals. Second, as judgments of the self by others are less consequential, power-holders experience a decrease in public self-awareness, or self-consciousness. Third, power-holders' self-regulatory mechanisms, which require effortful control, break down for reasons of motivation and cognitive busyness. Power-holders are less motivated to control their behavior because they care less about others' judgments, but they also are less able to control their behavior because their cognitive resources tend to be more occupied. These three factors -- increased goal focus, decreased self-consciousness, and decreased self-regulation - converge to increase the likelihood of automatic behavior that represents power holders' "dominant" situational responses.