How Power Corrupts the Mind

People with strong social values might end up upholding such values after gaining power. (Image:  pexels /  CC0 1.0)
People with strong social values might end up upholding such values after gaining power. (Image: pexels / CC0 1.0)

It is said that power corrupts the mind and that absolute power corrupts one absolutely. Research into the nature of power and how it affects the mind seem to agree with this age-old adage.

Power and the human mind

Andy J. Yap, who is currently a professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, has researched deeply into the different psychological factors that are involved in power and its effect on human beings. He discovered that people are psychologically transformed once they experience power. They also transfer the feeling of being powerful in one situation into other settings as well. Power can make people take more risks and aggressively pursue their goals. However, it can also make the individual feel overconfident.

“In fact, powerful people are likely to have an egotistical view of themselves, while objectifying others. This distorted view predisposes them to place their self-interest over the interests of others, and prevents them from understanding the perspectives of the people around them… [Yap] has found through his research that power generally leads to more corrupt behaviors such as lying, cheating, and stealing,” according to The Head Foundation.

Power can corrupt the mind. (Image: pexels / CC0 1.0)

A study conducted in 2011 found that the likelihood of a person engaging in infidelity became higher as they rose up the corporate ladder. Back in 2009, an experiment asked participants to write the letter “E” on their foreheads. People who were identified to be in a powerful position wrote the letter back to others but right-sided to themselves. However, those who were deemed to lack in power wrote the letter in a way that it could be read by other people. The results suggest that powerful people do not overly concern themselves with what others think and have more choice in their decisions.

“While empathy is the tendency to feel others’ emotions and take them on as if you were feeling them, compassion is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. By doing so, we can counter the loss of empathy that results from holding power, and in turn enable better leadership and human connections at work,” according to Harvard Business Review.

Perform some Falun Dafa exercises to cultivate compassion.(Image: Joffers951 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

The practice of Falun Gong can help people cultivate compassion. (Image: Joffers951 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

To build up compassion, you can start off by practicing some meditation. Do mindfulness programs, yoga, Falun Gong, or similar spiritual practices that have the ability to root a person to an honest, compassionate mind. Once you get the meditation part correct, you can move on to applying compassion at your workplace, which would mean treating your employees and other underlings with an open, just heart rather than prejudging them as people who are “below” you.

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