Question 24 - Verbal Reasoning Practice Test for the GRE

The purpose of this article is to ____.

Study explores how power gets to the brain

Pow­er may or may not cor­rupt, but it does change a per­son—and a new study ex­plores just what hap­pens in the brain as those changes oc­cur.

In the stu­dy, neu­ro­sci­en­tists probed what mech­a­nisms un­der­lie pow­er­ful peo­ple’s re­duced in­clina­t­ion to take the per­spec­tives of oth­ers.

They found that gain­ing a feel­ing of pow­er over oth­er peo­ple tends to de­ac­tiv­ate the brain’s “mo­tor res­o­nance sys­tem”—a net­work of nerve cir­cuits through which we in­ter­nal­ize oth­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences. The mo­tor res­o­nance sys­tem works such that, for ex­am­ple, if we see some­one throw a ball, parts of our brain nor­mally as­so­ci­at­ed with our own ac­tion of ball-throwing be­come more ac­tive.

The cog­ni­tive changes in pow­er­ful-feel­ing peo­ple rend­er them less able “to take the vis­u­al, cog­ni­tive, and emo­tion­al per­spec­tives of oth­ers,” wrote the au­thors of the stu­dy, pub­lished in the July 1 is­sue of the Jour­nal of Ex­pe­ri­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy, Gen­er­al.

Wheth­er such changes lead pow­er­ful peo­ple to lose their em­pa­thy has been a sub­ject of con­flict­ing re­ports. But stud­ies sug­gest that peo­ple who feel pow­er­ful tend to lis­ten less, pun­ish more harsh­ly, act more hyp­o­critic­ally and ster­e­o­type oth­ers more.

The mo­tor res­o­nance sys­tem is so called be­cause it leads our brain ac­ti­vity to “res­onate,” in a sense, with that of oth­ers. A crit­i­cal ar­ea of the brain in­volved in the sys­tem is the fronto-parietal re­gion, around the top of the brain.

Neu­ro­sci­ent­ist Jer­e­my Hogeveen of Wil­frid Lau­ri­er Uni­vers­ity in Wa­ter­loo, Can­a­da and col­leagues re­cruited 45 par­ti­ci­pants for the stu­dy. The peo­ple were asked to write es­said about ei­ther a time when they ei­ther re­mem­bered hav­ing pow­er, a time when they re­mem­bered feel­ing pow­erless, or a top­ic of less rel­e­vance—what hap­pened yes­ter­day.

The ex­er­cise was de­signed to “prime” par­ti­ci­pants to feel pow­er­ful, help­less or neu­tral.

Next the par­ti­ci­pants watched videos of a right hand squeez­ing a ball, while they un­der­went a pro­ce­dure called tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic stimula­t­ion. This can be used to as­sess the ex­citabil­ity of brain re­gions linked to spe­cif­ic mus­cles, and there­by, the ac­ti­vity of the mo­tor res­o­nance sys­tem.

The re­sults, the sci­en­tists wrote, “sug­gest a lin­ear rela­t­ion­ship be­tween pow­er and the mo­tor res­o­nance sys­tem, where­by in­creas­ing lev­els of pow­er are as­so­ci­at­ed with de­creas­ing amounts of res­o­nance.”

Simply put, peo­ple feel­ing pow­er­ful seem to be less mo­ti­vat­ed to un­der­stand what oth­er peo­ple are go­ing through and to make in­di­vid­ual judg­ments about them, the re­search­ers added. “The pow­er­ful of­ten form a rel­a­tively shal­low un­der­standing of oth­ers,” they ex­plained. The new re­sults “sup­port the view that rath­er than seek in­di­vid­u­ating in­forma­t­ion about new interac­tion part­ners, those with pow­er tend to rely on ster­e­o­types.”

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