Media gaffes, inappropriate comments and the short fuses of Tony Abbott, Shane Warne and Donald Trump may be criticised, but do they serve another function?
A research team from The University of Queensland School of Psychology, led by Dr Jason McIntyre, has suggested lapses in self-control can establish a perception of power.
“Like other animals, humans are particularly good at determining where a new group member fits on the social ladder,” Dr McIntyre said.
“Self-control, or lack thereof, can be one cue that we use to gauge someone’s status.
“Ironically, the tendency for politicians and other leaders to behave impulsively may signal to party members and the public that they possess power.”
Dr McIntyre and co-authors Professor Bill von Hippel and Dr Fiona Kate Barlow noted that low levels of self-control were traditionally associated with poor life outcomes.
However, low self-control also advertises power to new acquaintances.
“Because politicians, sports stars and others in powerful positions feel licensed to act impulsively and inappropriately as they’re unlikely to suffer the consequences of this behaviour, we have learned to infer social status based on these cues,” Dr McIntyre said.
“The behaviour of people with impaired self-control and people in high positions of power are often indistinguishable.
“For example, narcissism is a quality displayed by people who possess and seek power, and it is particularly exaggerated among people with low self-control.”
Source: Kirsten O’Leary – University of Queensland Image Source: The image is in the public domain Original Research:Abstract for “Self-Regulation and Power: How Self-Regulatory Failures Can Enhance Social Power” by Jason C. McIntyre, William von Hippe and Fiona Kate Barlow in Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Published online January 8 2016 doi:10.1111/spc3.12228
Self-Regulation and Power: How Self-Regulatory Failures Can Enhance Social Power
Low self-control is often associated with poor life outcomes. Here, we propose that self-control failures may also provide social benefits by signaling and maintaining power. We identify several pathways by which reduced self-control can assist in ascending social hierarchies. First, the self-enhancing tendencies adopted by people with low self-control may contribute to making positive first impressions and advertising power to new acquaintances. The direct and disinhibited communication styles that stem from self-control failures may also enhance power and lubricate difficult social interactions. Disinhibited aggression can help people maintain and acquire material resources and establish dominance over rivals. Finally, the parallels between the behavior of people with low self-control and people with power (e.g., self-enhancement, disinhibition, approach-orientation, aggression) suggest that people with impaired self-control will be perceived as more powerful than people with intact self-control. Evidence for these propositions and directions for future research are discussed.
“Self-Regulation and Power: How Self-Regulatory Failures Can Enhance Social Power” by Jason C. McIntyre, William von Hippel and Fiona Kate Barlow in Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Published online January 8 2016 doi:10.1111/spc3.12228