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Power and the illusion of control

16 Mar 2009


New study from Niro Sivanathan, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, finds that the experience of power leads to an illusion of personal control

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New research from Niro Sivanathan, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School shows that the experience of power can lead to an illusion of control.

Niro explains, "Our research found that power led to perceived control over outcomes that were uncontrollable or unrelated to power. Power predicted control over future outcomes that were outside one's span of control, for example national election results."

The study showed that when primed to recall feelings of power, participants had a greater feeling of control over a chance event than when recalling feelings of powerlessness. When offered a reward for correctly predicting the roll of a die, powerful participants were more likely to choose to roll the die themselves rather than have another person do it for them, suggesting they believed controlling the throw would influence an entirely random outcome.

The results have implications for how power can be maintained or lost, as power can make individuals try to achieve the impossible, or to make poor choices and risky decisions.

Niro Sivanathan carried out the research with Nathanael Fast and Deborah Gruenfeld from Stanford University and Adam Galinksy from Northwestern University. The paper ‘Illusory Control: A generative force behind power's far-reaching effects' was published in Psychological Science