April 26, 2011
Having power over others and having
choices in your own life share a critical foundation: control,
according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a
journal of the
Association for Psychological Science.
The paper finds that people are willing
to trade one source of control for the other.
For example, if people lack power, they
clamor for choice, and if they have an abundance of choice they
don't strive as much for power.
"People instinctively prefer high to
low power positions," says M. Ena Inesi of London Business
School. "Similarly, it feels good when you have choice, and it
doesn't feel good when choice is taken away."
Inesi and her coauthors suspected
that the need for personal control might be the factor these two
seemingly independent processes have in common. Power is control
over what other people do; choice is control over your own outcomes.
Inesi co-wrote the study with,
Simona Botti, also of London Business
David Dubois of HEC Paris
Derek D. Rucker and Adam D. Galinsky,
both of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern
To find out if power and choice are two sides of the same coin, the
researchers conducted a series of experiments that looked at whether
lacking one source of control (e.g., power) would trigger a greater
need for the other (e.g., choice).
For instance, in one experiment, participants started out by reading
a description of a boss or an employee and had them think about how
they would feel in that role. That meant some people were made to
feel powerful and some were made to feel powerless. Then the
participants were told they could buy eyeglasses or ice cream from a
store that had three options or a store that had fifteen options.
People were willing to go through great lengths (i.e., drive farther
or wait longer) to access the store with more options.
Lacking power made people thirsty for
In another set of experiments, when people were deprived of choice,
they displayed a thirst for power - for instance, by expressing
greater desire to occupy a high-power position. Additional
experiments found that people can be content with either power or
choice - or both - but that having neither makes them distinctly
Inesi believes this discovery - that power and choice are
interchangeable - can be useful in the workplace.
"You can imagine a person at an
organization who's in a low-level job," she says. "You can make
that seemingly powerless person feel better about their job and
their duties by giving them some choice, in the way they do the
work or what project they work on."
This research gets at,
"the fundamental and basic
importance of control in people's lives."
Inesi, Ena, Simona Botti, David
Dubois, Derek D.Rucker and Adam D. Galinsky - Power and Choice:
Their Dynamic Interplay in Quenching the Thirst for Personal
Control - Psychological Science, 2011
For a copy of the article "Power and Choice: Their Dynamic
Interplay in Quenching the Thirst for Personal Control" and
access to other Psychological Science research findings, please
contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or