Menu Search

Psychology suggests that power doesn’t make people bad—it just reveals their true natures (2016)

“The more power people get, the more freedom they feel they have to be their authentic selves, acting consistently with their goals and values. In other words, power isn’t inherently corrosive. It simply brings our true nature out into the open.”

Quartz, 14th October 2016
Kraus, Michael W., assistant professor, Yale University School of Management
Image: Flickr/gageskidmore

“One study that [was] conducted…asked participants to think of a time they had power, and some participants to think of a time they had lacked it. This put them in a correspondingly powerful or powerless mindset.”

“Directly following this prompt…participants [were asked] what they are like around three important social groups they belong to—such as their friends, family, and co-workers.”


“The biggest implication of this sort of study is that having power allows people to freely express themselves in situations where others might more carefully consider how their behaviour impacts, or even harms, others.”

“The fact that power amplifies negative personality traits also has some direct implications for behaviour. In a study by Katherine DeCelles, a professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Toronto, people who cared less about morality were also more likely to break the rules at work—but only if they had power.”

“In the study, working adults reported higher levels of misbehaviour at the workplace—such as clocking out early or taking longer than allowed breaks—specifically when they were more powerful and morality was less central to their identity.”

“…Findings suggest that power has a caustic effect on people with already questionable character because it gives them unfettered license to act, feel and treat others in ways that completely align with their own goals and interests.”

“This…becomes particularly relevant as the public experiences daily revelations about Trump scandals past and present. Psychological research strongly suggests that we should care a great deal about our leaders’ personalities, separately from the policies they champion, because no position is prestigious or noble enough to make a person of questionable character behave themselves.”

You can read the full article on Quartz here: Psychology suggests that power doesn’t make people bad—it just reveals their true natures

Leave a comment

Back to the top
We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't accept comments that are unsubstantiated, unnecessarily abusive or may expose the Trust in any way. All contributions are moderated before being published.

Comments are closed.