Although it seems obvious that powerful people can wield more control over how they spend their time, with the ability to cancel meetings or have an assistant take over basic tasks, a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that individuals who feel powerful also perceive themselves as being able to control time.
“Given that the objective experience of time is uniform for everyone, it would seem safe to assume that all people perceive time in the same way,” write psychological scientists Alice Moon and Serena Chen in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“Instead, across 557 participants, five studies, and several ancillary studies, we established that power leads to an increase in perceived time availability.”
For the study, researchers told 104 college student participants that they would be solving brain-teaser problems with a partner. Each participant was then assigned to a specific role: the boss (high power) or an employee (low power).
The “bosses” were told they would be telling the “employee” which problems to solve, what answers to give, and how to divide up a reward at the end of the task, while the employees were told that they would have no control over any key elements on the assignment.
To make the differences in power even more obvious, bosses were seated in high-end, cushy office chairs adjusted to be higher than the ordinary desk chairs in which the employees sat.
Once the task was over, participants completed a measure that gauged their sense of available time, answering questions such as “I feel in control of my time” and “I find it difficult to keep to a schedule because others take me away from my work” using a seven point scale. They also completed scales measuring their sense of power.
As expected, the high-power “bosses” reported both having more time and feeling more powerful than the low-power “employees.”
The researchers conducted another experiment and found that perceptions of time can be also be linked to our feelings of stress.
For this experiment, 147 adults were asked to complete an online survey. They were told to visualize an interview scenario in which they were either the interviewer (high power), the interviewee (low power), or to imagine a time when they held equal power with someone.
Participants then completed a test of perceived time availability, as well as a measure of stress. Using a five point scale, participants rated how much they currently felt emotions such as “anxious” or “relaxed.”
The findings showed a link between sense of time and stress; the high-power group reported the least amount of stress and the most amount of time, the low-power group reported the most stress and the least amount of time, and the equal-power participants fell in-between.
“Not only does power influence perceived control over time, but perceiving control over time leads to a subjective sense that more time is available,” the researchers conclude.
“This suggests that it isn’t simply the case that powerful people actually have more control over their time, but that powerful people also perceive having control over time even when they don’t.”