Can an ordinary person turn into a despot like Hosni Mubarak? Perhaps not overnight,but power does have an effect on the psyche,psychologists say.
It has been established that famous dictators like Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin share a personality profile marked by narcissism and paranoia.
But,psychologists now believe that an ordinary person like Mubarak,who ruled Egypt for 30 years with an iron-hand,can also turn themselves into a despot if they get absolute power,allowing them whatever they want.
A team from the University of California-Berkeley found that people primed to think of themselves as well-off were worse at reading other people’s emotions than people primed to think of themselves as poor.
The reason may be that people without much power need to build alliances with one another to get by while people in charge,on the other hand,can do what they please,said Dacher Keltner,co-author of the study that was published in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science.
“When you get power,you really stop carefully attending to your social environment,” Keltner told LiveScience.
“You don’t read the emotions of other people well. You don’t have a clear understanding of important social conditions like poverty.”
On top of that,Keltner said,”power just makes you more impulsive and self-serving and inappropriate in how you behave.”
Past studies have also showed that power does have an effect on the psyche. And the most famous example is the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment,in which students were randomly assigned to be either “prisoners” or “guards” in a makeshift “prison.”
The guards became so abusive and the prisoners so passive that the experiment was shut down after less than a week.
According to scientists,power may also isolate a person from others. A 2006 study,also published in Psychological Science,used an unusual method to demonstrate this phenomenon.
The researchers had participants draw a letter “E” on their foreheads. First,though,the volunteers were primed to think of themselves as either more or less powerful. The more powerful group was three times more likely to draw the “E” on their forehead so that it would be backwards to others.
The implication,the researchers said,is that powerful people become more self-oriented and care less about the perspectives of others.
Another study carried out in 2009 showed that people trained to think of themselves as powerful were more likely to believe they had control over a situation — even when they were participating in a random activity such as rolling dice.
“The illusion of personal control might be one of the ways in which power often leads to its own demise,” the researchers wrote in the journal in Psychological Science.
Put it all together and there will be a perfect recipe for tyranny: Get a taste of power,stop noticing or listening to others,and finally begin to believe you’re in charge of random events,the scientists said.
However,power isn’t all good or all bad,according to Richard Petty,an Ohio State University psychologist,whose study in 2007 found that power gives people confidence in the beliefs they already hold.
“Power magnifies whatever is in your head. We think it kind of explains why powerful people do more good and do more bad,” Petty said.