Power and Personality

Imagine that tomorrow you inherit the rights to a multi-million dollar tech product. Suddenly, you need to hire a team who is going to help manufacture, market, distribute and sell this product on a global scale. How would you approach the hiring process? What are some key factors you might look for in potential job candidates? How might your demeanor be while interacting with these candidates?

Now, fast-forward 5 years. Your company failed. You’ve lost all of your investors, are filing for bankruptcy, and are out of a job. You are applying to work at a new start- up tech company. How would you approach the interview? What do you want the hiring committee to see in you? How might your demeanor be while interacting with the hiring committee?

When you imagined yourself in these two scenarios were you conceivable the same person? How might your personality be different across these two situations?

Being more or less influential changes people, in subjectively and objectively positive and negative ways (Chen, Lee Chai, & Bargh, 2001). Individuals move through life in starkly different ways when they are the ones in control over others’ life outcomes versus when they are on the receiving end of resources and opportunities afforded by another individual. When people have power – control over other’s resources – it reduces their dependency on other others and increases the ability to think, feel, and behave freely without situational constraints (Fiske, 1993). This freedom also allows those with greater “power” (influence) to resist situational influences and respond in ways that are truer to their self-concept (e.g., traits, motives, goals; see Kraus, Chen, & Keltner, 2011).

Having power over enables more freedom. People who are in more powerful groups or positions show more variability --- each person expressing, for example, his tastes, compared to groups with lower positions – they tend to conform to norms and so, each is not as different than his or her peers (Guinote, Brauer, & Judd, 2002). Likewise, compared to those whose outcomes are in the hands of others, people with power(-over) have more self-determination; their thoughts and actions can suit their pre-dispositions and desires because they don’t need to change who they seem to be in order to satisfy others (Kraus et al., 2011). Thus, having power allows people who have goals, internal motivations, and traits that are anti-social or pro-social to act accordingly. For example, people who are more pro-socially oriented act in more accordance with their pro-social goals when they are given more power (Côté et al., 2011). Conversely, when men who are prone to sexual harassment are exposed to power, they tend to be drawn to women (Bargh, Raymond, Pryor, & Strack, 1995; Williams, Gruenfeld, & Guillory, 2017).

Social constraints influence how people respond to being chronically under someone’s thumb. Although those with less power constrain their actions out of fear of threat or punishment from powerful others, people who have chronically been devoid of control are more likely to be aggressive and vengeful than those with power – if they think they can get away with it (Strelan, Weick, & Vasiljevic, 2014). This kind of effect demonstrates that no one much likes to be controlled, and so even if a person or group tries to control somebody else, they will get push-back, even it if is hidden.



Bargh, J. A., Raymond, P., Pryor, J. B., & Strack, F. (1995). Attractiveness of the underling: An automatic power –> sex association and its consequences for sexual harassment and aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 768–781.

Chen, S., Lee-Chai, A. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). Relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of social power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 173–187. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.2.173

Fiske, S. T. (1993). Controlling other people: The impact of power on stereotyping. American Psychologist, 48, 621– 628. doi:10.1037/0003- 066X.48.6.621

Guinote, A., Judd, C. M., & Brauer, M. (2002). Effects of power on perceived and objective group variability: Evidence that more powerful groups are more variable. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(5), 708–721. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.82.5.708

Kraus, M. W., Chen, S., & Keltner, D. (2011). The power to be me: Power elevates self-concept consistency and authenticity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology47(5), 974-980.

Okimoto, T. G., & Wenzel, M. (2011). The other side of perspective taking: Transgression ambiguity and victims’ revenge against their offender. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 373–378.

Strelan, P., Weick, M., & Vasiljevic, M. (2014). Power and revenge. British Journal of Social Psychology, 53(3), 521-540.

Williams, M. J., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Guillory, L. E. (2017). Sexual aggression when power is new: Effects of acute high power on chronically low-power individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology112(2), 201.