By Emily Reynolds
Having a “choice mentality” – in short, believing that people’s behavior are “choices” or conscious actions driven by their own motives and preferences – has several advantages. For example, those with a choice mentality feel they are in control of their own destiny and see better results in negotiations.
There are some drawbacks, however. Electoral thinking can result in blaming victims, neglect of inequality, and diminishing interest in societal benefits. A new study in Social Psychology and Personality Science takes a closer look at these more problematic effects. Yidan Yin of UC San Diego and colleagues note that people in positions of power tend to adopt a decision-making mentality, which makes them more likely to blame others for mistakes.
In the first study, 363 participants completed two surveys in random order. One measured the participants’ sense of power and asked how much they agree with statements like “I can get others to do what I want”. The other looked at her propensity to blame. Participants were told that the researchers are crowdsourcing a solution to a real problem in their department: whether or not to give a bonus to an administrative assistant who missed a grant deadline, and they claim she has no other Choice because she is “entangled in other work”. They were then asked how much choice the assistant had about not completing the work and whether she thought she was to blame for the missed deadline. Eventually, they were asked to vote on whether or not they should receive the bonus.
The team found that participants with a higher sense of power believed the assistant had more choices and were less likely to vote to give her a bonus. Similarly, those who gave the assistant more choices blamed her more. This remained the case even if participants were excluded who did not consider the scenario to be real.
In the second study, the team looked at what happened when people felt more or less powerful. Participants were told that they had been divided into teams to rank them by importance. A list of tips on how to be successful at Mechanical Turk (the crowdsourcing website where the study took place). In the low power condition, participants were told that they were given the role of “worker” who was inferior to other teammates, while in the high power condition they were supervisors.
Participants were then asked to summarize a transcription that another team allegedly did: The transcription was full of errors that they were told because the worker’s internet connection was unstable. They then answered questions about the transcription and stated whether they thought the transcriptor had a choice to correct their mistakes, how much they were responsible for it, and whether they should be paid to do the transcription.
Again, participants in the high power group were more likely to perceive that the transcriber had a choice than those in the low power group, which in turn made them more likely to blame and punish the transcriter by pointing out that they didn’t should be paid. A third study also replicated these results.
In all three studies, participants who felt stronger were also more likely to think that others had more choices and therefore blame them more when something went wrong – even when a reasonable explanation was given. As the team notes, this cannot just be because those in power want to maintain their own position: in the first study, participants were asked to make a decision about a completely independent person and their own place in a social hierarchy. Instead, powerful people may benefit psychologically from believing that everyone’s position is related to choice, meaning that they have achieved their own position through merit and hard work.
Anyone in serious positions of power, such as politicians and politicians, should therefore carefully consider how much choice people actually have in different situations. Do people “choose” to stick to benefits, use a team-highlighted topic, or are they just doing the best they can with the constraints of their lives and the world? If powerful people think more critically about when we really have a choice and when we don’t, it could prevent them from unfairly blaming or punishing others.
– Power increases awareness of other people’s decisions and leads people to blame others more
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles