Power, status, and abuse

Originally posted on September 27, 2011

A recent study found that low status people with power tend to abuse that power:

In an article to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers studied the relationship between the status and the power of a job, said Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

The study, “The Destructive Nature of Power without Status,” determined that the combination of some authority and little perceived status can be toxic.

“We found that people who had high power and high status, they were pretty cool,” Fast told CNN. “But it was people who had power and lacked status who used their power to require other persons to engage in demeaning behavior.”

The researchers argue that the lack of respect given to low status people may cause some to project their feelings of insecurity and unworthiness on others, demeaning, even abusing them. The researchers reached this conclusion based on their experiments with students. They assigned one with a high-status “idea producer” role and the other a low-status “worker” role. They then had the students choose between the most to least demeaning activities to have others perform. The high-power/low-status students went for the more demeaning activities, such as say “I’m filthy” five times, bark like a dog three times, and count backward from 500 in increments of seven.

According to the report:

Our findings indicate that the experience of having power without status, whether as a member of the military or a college student participating in an experiment, may be a catalyst for producing demeaning behaviors that can destroy relationships and impede goodwill.

While the researchers related these findings to jobs, it can also relate to other elements of society, like political movements. For example, look at how the Tea Party regards those they disagree with. The Tea Party gained a lot of power between 2009 and 2010, yet they do not hold a high status in American culture. That might explain the cheers for the death penalty and letting a person without health insurance die. It might also explain the booing of a serving solider who is gay.

One can also see a similar dynamic in the feminist movement. Many aspects of feminist doctrine require men and boys to engage in demeaning, self-deprecating acts and theories.

Of course, as the report notes, every high-power/low-status person does not demean or hurt others. Plenty of people in that position treat others well. Yet, there does appear to be a connection between having power with an accompanying status that prompts some people to demean and abuse others.

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9 thoughts on “Power, status, and abuse

  1. Pingback: more interesting articles: « stonerwithaboner

  2. Tea Party regards those they disagree with. The Tea Party gained a lot of power between 2009 and 2010, yet they do not hold a high status in American culture.

    You know, it helps to not say things about subject you know nothing about and claim to know what an entire group stands from by only reading what their enemies say.

    You spoiled americans have had it so good, you fall for this leftist crap. I have lived in countries with socialized medicine my entire life. Maybe you spoiled dudes should lose capitalism so you fucking see how ungrateful you are when you complain about the best system and country on planet earth. THERE IS A REASON we (people from socialist europe) emmigrate to the USA, and it’s not coz “people die on the streets for lack of insurance”.

    That’s such incredible fucking bullshit. You’ve just lost all respect I ever had for you dude. To use such a childish propaganda technique to make a point lowers you to the level of an Andrea Dworkin. I can’t believe I ever respected you. Is this who you were all along? A super extreme irrational leftist that lies?

    That might explain the cheers for the death penalty and letting a person without health insurance die. It might also explain the booing of a serving solider who is gay

    Wait, you realize how ridicolous this is? Some person somewhere on some tea-party rally did some bad thing and you ascribe it to “tea parties” as a movement, which is completely spontaneous and with no central organization.

    What about the black tea-party member who was beat up and call ni**er by the labour protesters?

    See, one can use your example and say “goverment union workers are racists that beat up blacks”. When it was one labour protester beating up ONE black tea-partier. That doesn’t mean labour union workers are racists.

  3. You know, it helps to not say things about subject you know nothing about and claim to know what an entire group stands from by only reading what their enemies say.

    The left is no better. They do the same thing that the Tea Party does. I simply chose the Tea Party because they have been in the news recently.

    Some person somewhere on some tea-party rally did some bad thing and you ascribe it to “tea parties” as a movement, which is completely spontaneous and with no central organization.

    To date, not a single person associated with any Tea Party movement has come out against those outbursts. Worse, not even the candidates on stage at the time those outbursts happened said anything about it. If people on the left did that, I would call them out on it as well. It is disturbing and sad to see people so locked in their political views that they will not question something as demented as someone screaming “Yeah!” when a candidate gets asked whether we should let a man without health insurance die.

    What about the black tea-party member who was beat up and call ni**er by the labour protesters?

    That is an excellent example of how the left turns a blind eye to its members’ bad behavior.

  4. Pingback: Low status and high power equals plans for abuse | PostGygaxian

  5. “One can also see a similar dynamic in the feminist movement. Many aspects of feminist doctrine require men and boys to engage in demeaning, self-deprecating acts and theories.”

    I’m confused; what is feminist doctrine and what does it have to do with this study?

  6. I’m confused; what is feminist doctrine and what does it have to do with this study?

    It would take some time to explain feminist doctrine, but the gist is that women are oppressed by “the Patriarchy”, a sort of global conspiracy/conglomeration of male power that overtly and covertly seeks to keep women out of any positions of power while exploiting this to men’s explicit benefit. How feminist doctrine fits in with the study is that since feminists generally do not hold much status, much of their doctrine engages in demeaning behavior, usually directed at men, especially male feminists, but also at non-feminist women.

  7. The study confirms the hypothesis that those with power, but not status, are those who abuse their power in order to demean others. If the premise that “feminists generally do not hold much status” is true, and the premise “much of their doctrine engages in demeaning behavior” is true (I’m going to assume yes on both counts because I don’t really know what you’re talking about – guess I must be indoctrinated already?), then it is logical to conclude that feminist women, though without status, are in a position of power.

    What kind of power is it? How do they get it? How is it harmful?

    What about feminist women in relative positions of status? If a feminist is the “boss” at work, for example, then she has both power AND status – shouldn’t she theoretically be less likely to engage in demeaning behavior, even though she is a feminist? According to this study, she would, which indicates that it is her level of power and status alone that affects her willingness to demean others, and not her political ideology or the way it influences her interpersonal relationships.

    Also, I don’t know if you noticed this or not, but the CNN article you linked to doesn’t actually link to the study. I had to go digging in order to find it, but I did get the PDF here (http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~nathanaf/power_without_status.pdf). It says in the results tab (page 4) that even though the findings were universal – meaning that in all instances, low status and high power produced more demeaning directions from participants – willingness to demean partners was correlated to age, and that *men were more demeaning than women*.

    Maybe I just need to break out of some indoctrination or something, but I really just don’t see how this study supports your theory on feminism.

  8. Ginger, feminists hold a great deal of political power. They have enough of it to lobby successfully for things they want and to hinder some things they do not like. However, they lack social status, which puts them in the woeful position of constantly having to explain themselves to everyone.

    In regards to the study, I think it applies to feminists in that they often project their frustrations onto men, demanding that men and boys essentially humiliate and disempower themselves in order for feminists to “empower” women. This is particularly true with how feminists treat male feminists, as I have noted before.

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