Power Differences in the Construal of a Crisis: The Immediate Aftermath of September 11, 2001

Magee, J.C., Milliken, F.J. & Lurie, A.R.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(3), 354-370.

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.

Wagner Faculty