People who are not used to having power over others are more likely to be vengeful than experienced power-holders who tend to show more tolerance.
This was what psychologists from the UK and Australia found when they explored for the first time the connection between power and revenge.
They reported their findings in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
Clear link between power and revenge
Dr. Mario Weick of the University of Kent in the UK, who co-led the study, says they found a clear link between power and revenge, and notes:
“Power is not simply good or bad; it affects different people in different ways. Our studies highlight some of the negative effects power can have on people who are less accustomed to being in charge.”
“For those more accustomed to power, on the other hand, the consequences are actually quite positive as far as people’s revenge tendencies are concerned.”
The team reached their conclusions after examining a series of four experimental studies done in the UK and Australia.
Overall, the studies included nearly 500 participants whose responses to various kinds of trangression, such as gossiping, drunken violence, negligence or plagiarism were observed.
In all four studies, individuals who were not used to holding power, when given power to decide what happens to the perpetrator, sought more revenge than individuals who tended to exercise power more frequently.
The team also found that it is not just the ability to affect others that influences inclination to retaliate – body posture also appears to have an effect.
Body posture influences how power is used
In one study, when reading about the transgressions, one group of participants stood upright with an expanded body posture, while another group sat crouched on the floor.
In another study, participants were asked to either make a fist, or make an open palm, when reading about the transgressions.
“Both the expanded body posture and the fist-gesture instilled a sense of power in participants and led to greater vengeance in people who are less accustomed to power, compared to more self-assured participants.”
Yet, he adds, these differences didn’t emerge when the participants either sat crouched on the floor or made an open palm gesture when learning about the transgressions.
The team believes their study may also be useful for understanding how social hierarchies form and persist – perhaps fear of retaliation is what stops those at the bottom from seeking power.