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Those New to Power May Tend to Vengeance

Those New to Power May Tend to VengeanceNew research finds that people unaccustomed to holding power are more likely to be vengeful when placed in charge.

Experienced power-holders, on the other hand, were found to be more tolerant of perceived wrongdoing.

Psychologists Drs. Mario Weick of the University of Kent and Peter Strelan of the University of Adelaide, Australia, are among the first to explore the relationship between power and revenge.

They concluded that revenge and other acts of aggression are more likely to be enacted by individuals who are new to holding power and feel more vulnerable to threats, relative to those who feel more self-assured and experienced in their exercise of power.

The researchers base their conclusions on a series of four experimental studies conducted in the UK and Australia, involving close to 500 participants drawn from student populations and the general public.

Across all four studies, participants responded to different transgressions such as plagiarism, negligence, gossiping and a drunken violent offense.

As a component of the study design, some participants were exposed to power before the researchers measured participants’ inclination to seek revenge against the perpetrator.

Other participants were not exposed to power, or experienced an episode of powerlessness, depending on the study.

In all four studies, after being exposed to power, individuals not accustomed to having power sought more revenge than self-assured individuals who tend to exercise power more frequently.

However, no difference in vengefulness was found in the group of participants who were not exposed to power, or who experienced a brief episode of powerlessness.

Said Weick, “Our results provide a firm indication of the relationship between power and revenge. Power is not simply good or bad; it affects different people in different ways. Our studies highlight some of the negative effects power can have on people who are less accustomed to being in charge.

“For those more accustomed to power, on the other hand, the consequences are actually quite positive as far as people’s revenge tendencies are concerned.”

Interestingly, the researchers also showed that it is not only the ability to impact others that can bring out different inclinations to retaliate in people.

Body posture was also shown to have an effect.

In one study, one group of participants stood upright with an expansive body posture, while another group of participants sat crouched on the floor. In another study, participants either made a fist, or an open palm, whilst reading about transgressions.

“Both the expanded body posture and the fist-gesture instilled a sense of power in participants and led to greater vengeance in people who are less accustomed to power, compared to more self-assured participants,” Weick said.

“These differences did not emerge when participants sat crouched on the floor or made an open-palm gesture.”

Said Strelan, “Our finding may also hold relevance for our understanding of how social hierarchies are formed and maintained. Fear of retaliation could be one reason that prevents people at the bottom of hierarchies from acquiring powerful positions.”

Source: University of Kent


Man wielding power photo by shutterstock.

Those New to Power May Tend to Vengeance

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). Those New to Power May Tend to Vengeance. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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