Illusory Power Transference

“Illusory Power Transference” is the academic name for feeling powerful due to a superficial connection to a powerful person, such as having once been in the same room:

Suppose that one day, an employee at a large multinational corporation attends an event in which the company’s rarely seen chief executive officer (CEO) makes an appearance. As the CEO works the room, the employee greets him with a handshake, followed by a brief conversation in which they exchange pleasantries. The CEO thanks him for being ‘‘part of the team’’ and then excuses himself to deliver his keynote address. When the event is over, the employee walks back to his office and resumes his job as an investment manager. How would this brief association with the company’s most powerful figure affect the employee’s mindset and behavior when he resumes his work? …

We propose that … associating with the powerful CEO suggests that he, too, must be powerful. Moreover, this minimal connection with the CEO would actually lead him to act as if he personally possessed more power when making important decisions on the job and interacting with others. ….

We use two experiments to … demonstrate that men who have a tenuous association with a powerful other (versus a powerless or equal-power other) felt more powerful and were more optimistic, confident, and risk seeking, even though they could not leverage the associate’s power. (more; HT Tyler Cowen)

I have suggested that lot of otherwise puzzling behavior can be explained by strong evolved desires to affiliate with high status (i.e., impressive or powerful) people. Apparently even very weak affiliations can make big differences. This can help explain our preferring live art and sport events, and our uncritical relations to academics, real estate agents, investment advisors, doctors, lawyers, etc.

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