Power sans status makes most govt clerks rude

Researchers from the University of Southern California, Stanford University and the Kellogg School of Management have found that the combination of some authority and little perceived status can be a toxic combination. The study is “based on the notions that low status is threatening and aversive, and power frees people to act on their internal states and feelings”.

The researchers conducted an experiment with students who were told they would be interacting with a fellow student in a business exercise and were randomly assigned to either a high-status “idea Producer” role or low-status “worker” role. Then these individuals were asked to select activities from a list of 10 for the others to perform; some of the tasks were more demeaning than others.

The experiment demonstrated that individuals in high- power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (eg, bark like a dog three times) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles.

“Although a lot of work has looked at these two aspects of hierarchy, it has typically looked at the isolated effects of either power or status, not both. We wanted to understand how those two aspects of hierarchy interact. We predicted that when people have a role that gives them power but lacks status — and the respect that comes with that status — then it can lead to demeaning behaviours. Put simply, it feels bad to be in a low status position,” lead author Nathanael Fast said.

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