Don’t bother trying to persuade your boss of a new idea while he’s feeling the power of his position, new research suggests - he’s not listening.Briñol is Pablo Briñol, lead author of the study and a social psychologist at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain.
“Powerful people have confidence in what they are thinking. Whether their thoughts are positive or negative toward an idea, that position is going to be hard to change,” said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and a psychologist at Ohio State University. ...
The research examined an issue largely ignored by social scientists, Petty said: many studies have looked at how the power of a person delivering a message affects recipients, but this one seems to be the first to assess how the listener’s power affects persuasion.
In the studies, the investigators told college students they would participate in two supposedly separate experiments.
In one, the students role-played in a game in which one acted as a boss, the other as an employee. In the second experiment, the participants viewed a fake ad for a mobile phone. Half the viewers saw ads with rather feeble arguments for buying the phone, such as its great currency converter; the other half saw ads with strong arguments, such as the quick five-minute recharging time.
When the role-playing took place before the ad, those who played boss were more likely than the “employees” to rate the phone similarly - regardless of the ad type, Petty and Briñol said. “The strength of the argument made no difference to those who played the boss. They obviously weren’t paying attention when they felt powerful,” Petty remarked. “Those who played the employee, who were made to feel powerless, paid a lot more attention to the arguments. They weren’t as confident in their own initial beliefs and weighed the arguments more carefully.”
In another part of the study, the order of the experiments was reversed; reading the phone ads came first, with the students writing down their thoughts as they did so, came first and the role-playing after. After that, they went back and rated the phones.
The role-playing “bosses” were now more influenced by the quality of the arguments in the ads, the researchers said, whereas the “employees” were less influenced.In case that's not quite clear: You see an ad and think it makes a good argument. You get a taste of power. You rate the product in the ad and in essence think (without actually thinking) "Well, if I thought the argument was strong, it must be strong!" And vice versa for a weak argument. Meanwhile, those who had been the powerless "employee" were actually less influenced by the ads because they hadn't been given that power-propelled ego boost so they had less confidence in their original judgment.
“When power was experienced after the ads had been processed, it gave people confidence in their most recent thoughts, so if they read strong arguments, they rated the phones more favorably. If they read weak arguments, they were much more negative,” Petty said.
As for the political relevance, I'd say it explains a lot. Take a person with a sense of entitlement and an overblown ego and put them into a position of power and what do you get? Someone so convinced of the correctness of their own thoughts that they are incapable of accepting criticism and stubbornly resistant to alternatives and who may even be unable to remember a single mistake they've made.
Footnote: Just as a quick observation, I'm aware that criticism has been directed at studies such as this one because they frequently use college students as subjects. Are they, critics ask, really representative of an entire population? Are they really typical enough to generalize from them? I think in some cases, especially those that revolve around social attitudes, the criticism can be valid. But in a case like this, where it's thought processes rather than attitudes which are under study, I don't think it applies.