Historian Henry Adams described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” It turns out that professor at UC Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, drew the same conclusion after years of lab and field experiments.
He found that the subjects he studied that were under the influence of power acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury. How’s that?! They became more impulsive, less aware of risk and less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.
Obhi put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine and found that power impairs a specific neural process.
He found that once a person has power they lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place. For example, powerful people do worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.
Blame subordinates for a lot of the problem. People tend to mimic the expressions and body language of their superiors which aggravates the problem because it provides the boss with few reliable cues. Mimicking the boss. The powerful end up with what Keltner calls an “empathy deficit.”
Mirroring goes on entirely within our heads and without our awareness. When we watch someone perform an action, the part of the brain we would use to do that same thing lights up in sympathetic response...vicarious experience, it you will. Normally this effect wears off, but if it goes on long enough, it causes “functional” changes to the brain. Power, the research says, primes our brain to screen out peripheral information.
Author Jonathan Davidson called it the Hubris Syndrome, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, as a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.”
It manifests itself in:
# contempt for others # loss of contact with reality
# restless or reckless actions
# displays of incompetence
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Don’t Let Power Corrupt You
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14 Symptoms of the Hubris Syndrome