Just because you may not be in a high-power position in the workplace, doesn’t mean you don’t feel a strong sense of power. That’s one of the takeaways from a study recently co-authored by a UCSD professor.
Pamela Smith, assistant professor of management at the Rady School of Management, is the co-author of a study that examined how individuals experience power in everyday life. The study was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, which was conducted with the help of 210 participants, found that how powerful or powerless one feels isn’t necessarily related to the position they have at work. However, there were more negative effects than positive effects among people who felt someone else had power over them.
“When somebody has power over you versus power over them, you feel worse,” said Smith, who co-authored the study with Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Cologne. “You feel stressed. You feel mentally depleted. But when you have power over other people, you don’t feel as stressed. The negative effects are much stronger than the positive effects.”
Older participants also reported experiencing more power.
“A lot of power experiences people reported were with family members as oppose to the workplace,” Smith said. “Older people are going to be more in a position of power, maybe, because of their experiences.”
The study also debunked perceptions that people of power are seen as mean or cold.
“People in powerful positions are typically seen as cold, uncaring, and distant,” Smith said. “But our findings show this is an oversimplification.”
Despite the differences of when people felt power, Smith found power played a role in at least 83 percent of the participants’ lives.
The breakthrough study comes at a time when very little research has been conducted on power and the effects of it. In fact, Smith said she was compelled to conduct the study because of the lack of information.
“I felt there was a big gap in our understanding of power,” Smith said. “It has either been done on undergraduate students in experimental labs or in the workplace. Power occurs in all facets of life not just in the workplace.”
The study was conducted with participants as young as 18 to 60. People from different ethnic backgrounds were also represented, Smith said.
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