A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, January 18, 2013

The More Power They Have, The More Stupid They Become

by Frederick Allen, at Forbes:
Do you ever get the sense that the more powerful people get, the more foolish they become? You're not the only one. Four university professors thought the same thing, and they devised a test to find out if it's really true. It is, they concluded.

That is, they found that power dependably breeds overconfidence, and overconfidence dependably leads to bad decisions. Nathanael Fast, of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, Niro Sivanathan, of London Business School, Nicole Mayer, of the University of Illinois, and Adam Galinsky, of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, noticed two well-known instances of calamitous overconfidence among the powerful: Steve Case's blithe orchestration of the $350 billion merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2000, and BP's massive obliviousness to risks, under Tony Hayward, that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The four wanted to know, are such overconfident people drawn to power, or does power itself create their overconfidence?

They had subjects write detailed accounts of times when they had had or had lacked power. They then had them answer a series of factual questions and rate how confident they were about their answers. They found that the people who had been primed to think of themselves as more powerful had more confidence in their answers than the rest—and yet their answers were actually less accurate. Yes, "confidence in one's answers was inversely correlated with accuracy.{

Four follow-up experiments confirmed and expanded the results. The researchers came to a disturbing conclusion:
Not only do overconfident people tend to acquire roles that afford power . . . but the subjective sense of power brought on by these roles causes people to become further overconfident. . . . Finding practical ways to soften and/or hold in check the causal relationship between power and overconfidence represents an important endeavor for future research. Helping the powerful safely escape this perilous aspect of power is not only in the interest of power holders, but is also in the interest of all who are daily impacted by their decisions.
What can you do? One answer, apparently, is to humiliate the powerful. The fifth and final experiment the four conducted found that the tie between power and overconfidence "was eliminated when the powerful were made to feel incompetent."

The full study is being prepared for publication in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
The post is linked here.


Bob Robinson said...

Reminds me of "The Decider."

Oloryn said...

"confidence in one's answers was inversely correlated with accuracy"

As someone who tends to push I Cor 8:2, I find this unsurprising. That is, to my understanding, the point of I Cor 8:2. The person who's utterly sure of his knowledge is actually missing out on a key piece of knowledge (which I believe to be how easily he himself can misunderstand the very knowledge he's priding himself on). Unfortunately, we tend to react just the opposite, tending to take the word of those who speak with extreme confidence as though it must be gospel truth.