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New Study Reports Power Can Lead to Dehumanization of Others

Update Date: Mar 07, 2013 03:52 PM EST

A new study done at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the effects of power could lead to the dehumanization of others. The lead author, a doctoral student with the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Jason Gwinn wanted to see if power could influence people's perspectives of one another. After his experiment, Gwinn found that power negatively affected people's perceptions of others. People in higher positions of power tended to attribute less humane traits to people who were considered to have little to no power.

The study recruited 300 participants from the Introduction to Psychology course at the university. Each student had to take part in the two-part experiment. The first section split students into either a manager or an assistant role with the task of hiring an applicant for a specific job. The assistant's role was to prescreen the resumes, list good and bad qualities of each applicant, and present him or her to the manager who was responsible for choosing who to hire.  The second part of the experiment divided students into two groups, allocators and recipients. Allocators were considered to be the high power group where as the recipients were viewed as the low power group. One person from each group was responsible for splitting money. The allocator would offer a way to split the money and if the recipient agreed, the money would be divided. However, if the recipient did not agree with how the money would be divided, no one would get the cash at all.

After the experiments, the participants were asked to rate one another based on 40 traits. Some of the traits that measured humanity revolved around ambition, imagination, and insecurity. The traits that were considered to be less humane included shyness, passiveness, and friendliness. These traits were previously defined by a 2007 Australian study. Gwinn found that people who held the high power positions tended to attribute less humane traits to the people in the lower power positions. However, the people in the lower power positions did not do the same. This conclusion suggests that power makes people perceive others as less humane.

Gwinn stated that the study could not explain why this kind of perception occurred between the two groups of people. However, this study was not the first and will not be the last one to question the role of power and its possible negative effects on humans. This study will be published in the May edition of Experimental Social Psychology. 

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