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Does Power Goto Our Heads?

Power—defined as the ability to influence others—makes people think differently. For North Americans, a feeling of power leads to thinking in a focused and analytical way, which may be beneficial when pursuing personal goals.

“What’s most interesting about this study is the idea that thinking is flexible, not rigid or innately pre-programmed. We are able to attune our style of thinking to the needs of the situation,” explains Li-Jun Ji, the study’s co-author and a social psychologist who studies the relationships between culture and thinking. “However, the specific ways we might attune our thinking seems to depend on our cultural background.”

For most people, being in a position of power or influence means that you want to influence others and achieve your own goals. In North America, these goals tend to be self-defined and independent from the wider social context. As a result, thinking — focusing on one’s own goal and how to achieve it without being distracted by the surrounding context — can be advantageous.

Dr. Ji also found that North American individuals with high socioeconomic status (SES) displayed more analytical thinking than low SES individuals. She believes that this may be because higher SES increases people’s feelings of agency, a precursor to power.


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