There is an old saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s a catchy phrase that might be true.
In the unpublished manuscript “Power and the consumption of resources,” Ward and Keltner provide a vivid experiment of how increased power can lead to reduced inhibitions. They placed college students in same-sex groups of three people and asked them to collaborate on writing a short policy paper on contentious social issues. The researchers randomly chose one person to grade the other two students based on their contribution to the policy. This person now had power compared to the other students.
After 30 minutes, the researchers introduced a plate with five cookies. The ‘powerful’ students were much more likely to eat a second cookie than the others. They were also more likely to chew with their mouths open and to scatter crumbs over the table. With perceived power, they lost their social inhibitions.