Not so lonely at the top: The relationship between power and loneliness. (2015)
“These findings … speak to the fundamental question of whether it is ‘lonely at the top’ or lonelier at the bottom… (and) suggest power and loneliness are negatively related.”
Adam Waytz, Northwestern University; Eileen Y. Chou, University of Virginia; Joe C. Magee, New York University; & Adam D. Galinsky, Columbia University.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 130, 69-78.
Is it lonely at the top? Some research suggests that power creates social distance, or independence. Other work has articulated social forces that can increase the power-holders’ sense of distance from others, increasing feelings of self-sufficiency while decreasing willingness to help others and reducing desire for contact with subordinate
“To the extent that social distance and subjective isolation are similar, this previous research suggests that high-power people would experience greater loneliness than low-power people.
“However, we argue that the social distance experienced by power-holders differs from subjective isolation in two important respects. First, the social distance experienced by power-holders refers specifically to the people over whom they have power. In the current research, we are additionally interested in whether simply having or lacking power affects the psychological experience of loneliness more generally, outside their power-related relationships.
“Second, a sense of social distance is not inherently negative or positive, so it need not translate into an undesirable state of loneliness..
Highlights of the research included:
- Eight studies suggest power and loneliness are negatively related.
- Low power can increase loneliness and high power can reduce loneliness.
- Reduced need to belong explains power’s negative effect on loneliness.
“These findings help explain some effects of power on social cognition, offer insights into organizational well-being and motivation, and speak to the fundamental question of whether it is ‘lonely at the top’ or lonelier at the bottom.”
Access the full paper here: Not so lonely at the top.