New York, Feb 24: It’s widely perceived that people in the position of power are often lonely. But that can’t be completely true, claims new study. On the contrary, powerful people feel closer to others even though the sentiment is not necessarily reciprocated.
This sense of closeness also explains some of powerful people’s confidence, the study found. Emily Rutter, a graduate student in psychology at Harvard University, was interested in how power influences interpersonal relationships.
There are two main theories of power. The behavioural approach theory holds that powerful people are aggressive risk-takers who tend to assume others share their goals. The social distance theory, on the other hand, suggests that high-power individuals should actually feel more distant from other people.
Rutter and her colleagues first measured the participants’ trait power, meaning how powerful they feel on a day-to-day basis by asking questions about their feelings of control in life and influence over others. In the first study, volunteers were asked how close they felt to various people in their lives, such as neighbours, parents, bosses and friends.
In the second study, the participants were assigned to actually interact online with another person. Both studies found that the more powerful people felt, the closer they felt to others. The powerful people also felt less stressed about getting their cover letters evaluated.
“If you feel similar to the person who is evaluating you, you feel less stressed,” Rutter was quoted as saying. What I found coolest is people who have a high sense of power are feeling closer to others and if you think about the reverse, the lower-power people are feeling farther away,” she added.
The study was recently presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas.