Power leads to brain damage / SurprizingFacts

As leaders lose their mental abilities – first of all, the opportunity to see people through and through – that were necessary for their coming to power


If the government were prescribed as a prescription medicine, it would have a long list of side effects. It is toxic, it spoils, it can even make Henry Kissinger consider himself sexually attractive. But can it damage the brain?

When the various lawmakers last fall attacked John Stumpf at a congressional hearing, it seemed that each of them found a new way to criticize the former CEO of Wells Fargo for not being Managed to stop almost 5,000 of its employees from the institution of forged accounts for customers. But the most interesting was the behavior of Stumpf. He was a man who had risen to the heights of the most valuable bank in the world at that time, and it seemed that he was completely incapable of perceiving the mood of those present. Although he apologized, he was not like a person of humble and full repentance. But he did not seem defiant, self-satisfied or hypocritical. He looked disoriented, as the cosmic tourist experiencing the effects of time zone change from the planet Stumpf, on which respect for him is considered the law of nature, and 5000 is a fairly small number of people. Even the most immediate taunts: "Yes, you are probably joking" and "I can not believe what I hear," could not stir it.

What was going on in Stumpf's head? A new study suggests that it's better to ask – what did not happen in his head?

The historian Henry Adams spoke metaphorically, and not in medical terms, when he described power as "a kind of tumor that kills the sympathy of the victim." But this is not so far from the facts uncovered by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, after many years of laboratory and field experiments. Subjects with authority, as he found in studies conducted for two decades, behave as if their brains are injured – they become more impulsive, less aware of risks, and, most importantly, do worse with assessing events from the perspective of other people.

Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at the University of Makmasters, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behavior, Obhi studies the brain. And when he studied the heads of people in power, as well as people who had not been equipped with the device for transcranial magnetic stimulation, he discovered that the power weakens a certain nervous process, "mirroring", which may be the cornerstone of empathy. This gives a neurobiological basis for what Keltner called the "paradox of power": after gaining power, we lose some of the opportunities that were required for us to obtain it.

The loss of this opportunity was demonstrated by various creative methods. In 2006, in the study, the subjects were asked to draw the letter "E" on their forehead so that others could read it – to accomplish such a task it is necessary to imagine how a person sees you from his point of view. People who believed they had power were three times more likely to make mistakes, drawing the letter "E" so that it was right for themselves, and wrong for everyone else (remember George W. Bush, who held the US flag back in the 2008 Olympics ). Other experiments have shown that power-hungry people are less able to determine the feelings of others in the picture or guess how their colleague can interpret the remark.

The fact that people seek to repeat the expressions and body language of their superiors can exacerbate this problem-subordinates Do not submit to the heads of reliable signs. But more importantly, according to Keltner – so this is what influential people stop repeating after others. Laughing with others or tensing with them is not just trying to get yourself into trust. These actions help to evoke feelings experienced by other people, and allow a glimpse into the soul of the people experiencing them. People in power "stop pretending to be someone else's experience," says Keltner, which leads to what he calls "a deficit of empathy."

Mirroring is a more subtle version of mimicry, completely occurring in the head without our participation. When we look at how someone performs an action, the part of the brain that we would use to perform the same action is activated within the sympathetic response. This can best be understood by the example of a substitute experience. This activation was also attempted to achieve Obhi with his team, giving the examinees a video on which someone's hand was clutching a rubber ball.

For subjects who did not have access to power, mirroring worked normally: the neural pathways they used Would have been activated when squeezing a real ball. And in a group of people endowed with power, there was no such explicit activation.

Did they have a mirror response? Rather, it's muffled. None of the participants actually had a permanent power. It was college students who stood out because they remembered the situations in which they were the main ones. Muting is likely to disappear after the corresponding sensations have disappeared – the structure of their brain was not damaged after a day in the laboratory. But if the effect lasted longer – suppose, if Wall Street analysts whispered to them about their greatness quarter by quarter, board members would offer them additional incentives, and Forbes magazine would praise them – they could suffer what is known In medicine, as "functional" changes in the brain.

I was wondering – is it possible that the strengths of this world simply cease to put themselves in the shoes of others without losing this ability. It turned out that Obhi was conducting another study that could help in the search for an answer to this question. This time the subjects were told what is mirroring, and asked them to consciously increase or decrease their response. "As a result," they wrote with the co-author, Katherine Nash, "there was no difference." The desire did not help.

Sad opening. Knowledge must be power. But what good is it that you know that power deprives you of knowledge?

The best conclusion that can be drawn from this is that changes do not always go wrong. The study claims that the government gives the brain the ability not to pay attention to peripheral information. In most cases this gives an increase in efficiency. But the side effect is the dulling of social opportunities. But this is not necessarily bad for people in power or groups of people led by them. As Susan Fisk, a professor of psychology at Princeton, convincingly proves, power reduces the need to read the nuances of human behavior, because it gives us resources that we have previously had to beg for others. But in a modern organization, the maintenance of such power is based on a certain level of organizational support. And the number of examples of arrogance haughty that headlines abound in, suggests that many leaders cross the line separating them from counterproductive vagaries.

Since they no longer value the characteristics of other people so well, they begin to rely more heavily on stereotypes . And the less they see, the more they rely on a personal "worldview." John Stumpf saw Wells Fargo in front of him, where each client had eight accounts (and often noticed to staff that "eight" rhymes with "greatness" [eight — great]. "Cross-selling," he told Congress, "is a deepening of the relationship."

Is there anything you can not do about it?

And yes, and no, it's very difficult to prevent the authorities from influencing their brains. [Sometimes it's easier to stop feeling in power.]

The way of thinking is influenced not by a position or position, reminds me of Keltner, and the state of thoughts. And you did not feel that you have the power, and your brain can reconnect with reality – as the study suggests.

Some people are helped by memories of experiences in which they did not have power – and enough vivid memories can provide some kind of Permanent protection.A surprising study published in The Journal of Finance says that CEOs who survived a natural cataclysm with a large number of victims in their childhood are much less likely to take risks than those who do not have such experience. The only problem is, according to Raghavendra Rau, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Cambridge, that directors who survived cataclysms without a significant number of victims also like to take risks.

But arrogance helps contain not only tornadoes, volcanoes and tsunamis. The CEO of PepsiCo and the chairman of the board of directors of Indra Nui [Indra Nooyi] sometimes tells a story about the day when she found out about her appointment to the company in 2001. She came home, basking in a sense of her own greatness and importance, and her mother, before she had time to share the news, asked her to go for milk. Nuyi went out in a rage and bought milk. "Leave this damn crown in the garage," her mother told her when she returned.

The moral of the story is that Nui herself tells it. It serves as a useful reminder of the usual duties and the need to remain mundane. Nuilly's mother in history plays the role of a "toe-holder" – a term once used by political adviser Louis Howie to describe his relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt, whom Howie always called Franklin.

For Winston Churchill, his role was played by his wife Clementine , Who had the courage to write: "My dear Winston. I must admit that I notice the deterioration of your manners. You're not as kind as you used to be. " This letter she wrote on the day when Hitler entered Paris, then broke, but then still sent. It was not a complaint, it was a warning: she wrote that someone admitted to her that Churchill behaved with his subordinates at meetings "so arrogantly" that "he did not perceive any ideas, neither good nor bad" – and this was connected With the danger that he "will not achieve the best results."

Lord David Owen – a British neuroscientist who became a parliamentarian who served as foreign minister before becoming a baron – reminisces both Howie's story and Clementine Churchill in her Book of 2008, "In Disease and in Power", a study azlichnyh disorders affecting the efficiency of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. Some suffered from a stroke (Woodrow Wilson), alcohol abuse (Anthony Eden), or a possible bipolar disorder (Lyndon Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), and at least four more suffered from a disorder that is not considered to be a medical problem – although Owen claimed, That they should recognize him.

"The arrogance syndrome," he wrote and his co-author Jonathan Davydnos in an article from the 2009 magazine "The Brain", is a disorder associated with the possession of power, especially power, Associated with an exorbitant success, I have years and with minimal restrictions imposed on the leader. " Its 14 clinical properties include: contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless and rash actions, demonstration of incompetence. In May, the Royal Medical Society held a conference in conjunction with the Daedalus Foundation, an organization founded by Owen to study and prevent arrogance.

I asked Owen, who recognized the healthiest predisposition to arrogance, whether he was helped by something Reality, anything that could emulate people with real power. He shared some strategies: memories of arrogant episodes, watching documentary films about ordinary people, habit of reading letters from voters.

But I believe that his recent research may be the best test of Owen's arrogance. He complained that commercial enterprises have absolutely no interest in arrogance research. The situation with business schools is not better. The presence of disappointment in his voice spoke of a certain degree of helplessness. But as useful as it was for Owen, it follows that the ailment often observed at meetings of the board of directors and in the offices of the authorities will not soon receive its medicine.

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