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article imageOp-Ed: Being powerful has its downside - you're trusted less

By Tim Sandle     Oct 7, 2015 in Business
Many people seek power, whether this is control over others or economic might. Being seen as powerful can have its downsides, including being seen as less trustworthy by others with similar power.
The finding that powerful people are less trusted by the less powerful has come from a new study conducted by the Eller College of Management, University of Arizona, Tucson, U.S. The researchers start from the premise that trust is essential for a well-functioning society. Without trust civilized societies would never have formed; market exchanges would not take place; and many wars would not have reached faster conclusions.
From the basis that trust is important, the researchers looked at how having low power or high power affected the responses from others to see how well someone is trusted. They also looked at how people with different levels of power reacted to others, that it whether they were trusting or distrusting people. From this they undertook to develop a predictive model.
As to what power is, the U.S. sociologist Lukes offers a workable definition: "I have defined the concept of power by saying that A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B's interests."
To gather data the researchers used volunteer participants and manipulated their power position relative to another person. By conducting observational studies, the researchers observed how trust perceptions and behaviors were played out.
The outcome of the study was that people low in power are far more trusting than relatively more powerful people. To an extent this overturns previous research which attempted to show that people in low power situations were distrusting of more powerful people. In the study described here it seems that the reverse is true: "low-power individuals want their exchange partner to be trustworthy and then act according to that desire."
It was also found that those with less power have greater hope and expectations. This was not the case with those with power. perhaps the old adage "nothing to lose, everything to gain" explains the attitudes of those with less power? Whereas those with power are fearful of what they might lose.
So what does this mean outside of the more abstract world of social psychology? Clearly most people (given the majority have little power) are seemingly willing to place trust in somebody who is in a high-power position. This is perhaps good news for millionaire politicians and city bankers.
With the powerful, they probably place less value in trust. This is because they can probably afford to betray others. Once the deal is over they can simply move on to work with another person. Could it also be that less trusting individuals achieve positions of higher power?
The findings are published in the journal PNAS and the paper is titled "Power decreases trust in social exchange."
The researchers are of the view that their research will help with the understanding of trust and power in societal relations. The findings are certainly worth further inquiry.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Power, Trust, social exchage, Sociology, Psychology
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