Everyone knows that power is seductive, but is it power over others that we crave or power over our own actions and decisions?
To find out, Marius Van Dijke and Matthijs Poppe devised a financial game in which hundreds of undergrads took turns with a ‘partner’ to make share investment decisions. The students didn’t know this, but they actually played the game with a computer.
When the participants chose how much to invest, as well as using a share’s performance history, their decision was constrained within a recommended upper and lower limit set by their ‘partner’. In turn, the participants were able to set the upper and lower limits for what they thought was their partner. The researchers made it so that some participants had more control over their partner than their partner had over them, some participants had less control, and the remainder had equal control.
When quizzed afterwards, the participants consistently said they would like in the future to have more control over their own investment decisions, but they didn’t wish to have more control over their partner’s decisions. In fact, if they’d previously had more power over their partner’s decisions than their partner had had over theirs, many of the participants actually said they’d like in the future to have less power over their partner. This general pattern remained the same regardless of how much agreement or conflict there appeared to have been between their own and their partner’s investment decisions.
The researchers said this showed people are more motivated to decrease their dependence on other people’s power than they are to increase their power over others. In other words, they believe we’re driven to increase our ‘personal power’ over ourselves, but not necessarily our ‘social power’ over others.
“We believe we have advanced our understanding of the complexities involved in strivings for personal power”, they said.
Van Dijke, M. & Poppe, M. (2006). Striving for personal power as a basis for social power dynamics. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 537-556.