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Researchers Observe 'The Power Trap'

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, researcher Jonah Lehrer noted that most of us are nicer as we're climbing the social ladder. But once we get closer to the top, we start acting like a "beast." Lehrer writes:

As one business professor concluded, "It's an incredibly consistent effect. When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive." Some have even compared the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged [frontal lobe], a brain area that's crucial for empathy and decision-making.

Lehrer noted a study in which psychologists asked members of a "high-power group" about speeding. The group concluded that it was okay for them to speed, but that it was important for others to follow the posted limit. Their rationale was that powerful people are important and had a good reason for speeding. Lehrer concludes, "Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office."

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