Stories

Power's possible effects on the brain

Abi / Flickr Creative Commons

Feeling powerful may affect the brain and make people less able to empathize with others, according to the Atlantic.

Outside the brain: Psychology professor Dacher Keltner studied the behaviors of powerful people and observed that they were more impulsive, less aware of risks and not as likely to see someone else's point of view or "simulate the experience of others."

Inside the brain: Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist, found that power impaired the "mirroring" process in the brain, which is key to empathy, when he took a look inside the brains of those with and without power.

The experiment: "Mirroring" is a phenomenon where the part of the brain that is used to perform a certain action fires when watching that action being performed. When Obhi's test subjects watched a video of someone's hand squeezing a rubber ball, the neurons they would use to squeeze a rubber ball would be expected to fire. But some of this subjects were primed to feel powerful by talking about a time they were in charge, and their brains didn't respond as strongly in those regions.

A solution: Researchers found that when powerful people remembered an experience of powerlessness, it often helped them regain their ability to see from someone else's point of view.