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Breaking the Rules May Be a Power Trip

Breaking the Rules May Be a Power TripHave you ever noticed that many people with power seem to flaunt their presumed authority by being rude?

A new study investigates this observation and discovers people with power seem to act the part by smiling less, interrupting others and speaking in a louder voice.

Researchers determined that when people do not respect the basic rules of social behavior, they lead others to believe that they have power.

According to the experts, people with power experience the world in a different way than the rest of us. The powerful have fewer rules to follow, and they live in environments of money, knowledge and support.

Most of us live within the written and non-written expectations of what is right and  wrong, knowing that punishment and established limits are delineated.

A research team lead by Gerben Van Kleef, Ph.D., of the University of Amsterdam studied the question: Because the powerful are freer to break the rules, does breaking the rules seem more powerful?

In the study, subjects read about a visitor to an office who took a cup of employee coffee without asking or about a bookkeeper who bent accounting rules. The rule-breakers were seen as more in control, and powerful compared to people who didn’t steal the coffee, or didn’t break bookkeeping rules.

Acting rudely also seems to be perceived as powerful. People who saw a video of a man at a sidewalk café put his feet on another chair, drop cigarette ashes on the ground and order a meal brusquely thought the man was more likely to “get to make decisions” and able to “get people to listen to what he says” than the people who saw a video of the same man behaving politely.

Nevertheless, what happens when a “regular” person has to interact with a rule breaker?

Van Kleef and colleagues had people come to the lab, and interact with a rule follower and a rule breaker.

The rule follower was polite and acted normally, while the rule breaker arrived late, threw down his bag on a table and put up his feet. After the interaction, people thought the rule breaker had more power and was more likely to “get others to do what he wants.”

“Norm violators are perceived as having the capacity to act as they please,” the researchers concluded. Power may be corrupting, but showing the outward signs of corruption makes people think you’re powerful.

The study is found in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: Sage

Breaking the Rules May Be a Power Trip

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Breaking the Rules May Be a Power Trip. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 May 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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