Do people in power care how they look to the public? Many Israeli politicians dismiss the results of polls when they are not complimentary and boast about them when they show they are on top.
Power refers to the ability to influence others; previous studies have found that powerful individuals often display socially undesirable behaviors. Reputational concern shapes various social behaviors, since having a negative reputation often results in receiving negative social consequences such as ostracism and punishment. As such, individuals are motivated to avoid displaying socially disapproved behavior.
But contrary to earlier research findings, people of power – politicians, celebrities or school bullies – turn out to be no less concerned about their reputation, compared to those who have less influence and control within society.
Do the people in power care about their image and reputation?
Previously, it has been assumed that unlike the powerless, those who have the upper hand in society are able to get away with commonly unacceptable behavior such as aggression and exploitation and would care less about any potential damage to their reputation.A recent study by scientists at the University of Kent in the UK and Kochi University of Technology in Japan) published in the journal Social Psychological Bulletin under the title “Does the Sense of Power Influence Reputational Concern? Tests With Episodic and Semantic Power Priming” failed to find a correlation between the sense of power and reputational concern.
To make their conclusions, Dr. Hirotaka Imada, Dr. Tim Hopthrow and PhD student Hannah Zibell, conducted a series of three studies with the participation of about 900 British citizens in total. Having used well-established psychological research approaches, their findings do not only question previous assumptions about the link between one’s sense of power and concern about one’s reputation but also challenge current methodologies in social science.
One of the two used methods relied on people recalling an event in which where they felt they had power before answering questions that measured reputational concern (for example, “I do not consider what others say about me”) and evaluating statements that referred to their sense of power (“If I want to, I get to make the decisions”).
The team recruited 288 university students in exchange for partial course credit. As a cover story, participants were informed that the study was designed to investigate the relationship between personality and interpersonal relationships. Those in the high-power condition were asked to recall and describe an event in which they had power over another individual or individuals. Those in the low-power condition were asked to recall and describe an event in which someone else had power over themselves. In the control condition, participants were asked to recall and describe a social interaction during the previous day.
In the high- and low-power conditions, the researchers described having power as a situation in which they controlled the ability of another person or persons to get something they wanted or were in a position to evaluate those individuals. Each was asked to fill out the blanks into 20 fragmented words relevant to dominance and subordination.
“Reputational concern shapes various social behaviors, since having a negative reputation often results in receiving negative social consequences such as ostracism and punishment. As such, individuals are motivated to avoid displaying socially disapproved behavior,” the researchers explained.“The powerful, by definition, can influence others, and even if they establish a negative reputation, it is unlikely they will receive negative reputational consequences such as punishment; they are immune from negative reputational consequences. Thus, it can be hypothesized that power would liberate individuals from reputational concern,” they added.
However, the researchers remain cautious about the weight of their new findings. “Overall, it would be too early to draw any conclusions about the relationship between power and reputational concern. Given the ubiquity and the crucial role of reputation in social lives, the potential relationship between them deserves further scholarly investigation.”