We know the powerful are risk-takers. It comes with confidence, and that feeling that you can make the world bend to your will is the key ingredient in everything from politics to military strategy to playing NFL quarterback.
But as it turns out, it works the other way, too. Put us in a position of power, and our perception of our abilities leaves all logic and reason behind.
"Hut ... hut ... ANNEX CZECHOSLOVAKIA!"
This next study happened at Stanford University. The setup was similar to the hypocrisy experiment, in that researchers got the subjects into a powerful mood by having them write about a situation where they had power over another person. Then there were two control groups: One wrote about a time they felt powerless, and another wrote nothing and probably just made doodles of dongs on their notebooks. Again, these people were assigned to the powerful and powerless groups at random. It had nothing to do with their station in life or how much power they actually had in the real world.
Then the researchers made them an offer: They could roll some dice, and if they correctly guessed their roll, they'd get cash. But they had the choice of either rolling the dice themselves or letting someone else roll for them. The choice was nonsense -- dice is not a game of skill. That's the point of dice. If there's some guy who's really good at making dice land a certain way, he'd be at a craps table now putting a casino out of business.
Dice appreciate a good blow, but it doesn't change how they roll.
Yet, while both the less-powerful and the control group gave up the responsibility 30 to 40 percent of the time, a full 100 percent of the empowered subjects chose to roll themselves. Drunk on their little scrap of completely fake power, they assumed they could control a completely random outcome better than someone else. All because a guy in a lab coat tricked them into feeling powerful.
But it doesn't end there. Another study found that people with power see the world more positively and are therefore more likely to take risks based on the pure blind faith that things always work out for them because they're awesome. If you're keeping track, this basically means that people in charge see the world as a gumdrop palace in which they have superpowers.
"Ha-ha! My god-like power has rolled yet another Yahtzee!"
Are you starting to see a theme here? It's like even minor feelings of power trick you into thinking you're a part of some other, superior species of human. So with that in mind ...
In theory, politicians in the age of democracy should feel almost too much compassion. They spend oceans of money and time getting elected to posts that exist solely for the continued well-being of the people they serve. They hold town hall meetings to listen to their constituents, and they risk their political futures trying to pass laws for the good of their people.
And all they ask in return is the occasional blowjob.
A study in an issue of Psychological Science set out to test this idea. The method was a little different, as instead of a role-playing exercise, the researchers actually surveyed subjects about how powerful they felt in their own lives. Then they were divided into powerful and powerless based on their answers.
The subjects were then paired up, and one was told to relay an emotionally scarring event that had happened to him. The listener was hooked up to an ECG machine, and all of his stress responses were measured.
Nope, there's nothing inherently stressful about this.
The powerless people reacted the way you'd expect people would react when told a heart-wrenching tale. The powerful, on the other hand, felt nothing. Or at least, their responses couldn't be measured, whether they naturally felt no empathy or were just better at regulating their emotions.
The researchers had all of the subjects fill out a survey at the end and inquired about whether they'd like to stay in touch with the other experiment subjects after the experiment was over, to see if maybe they'd made any friends during this ordeal. The powerless subjects were into it. The powerful were not. They wanted nothing more to do with the stranger they'd just traded personal stories with.
This seems to indicate what we had always suspected -- that while politicians may pander to you by kissing your baby, they might as well be kissing a can of Beanee Weenees. The guy who stole your wallet at the laundromat will probably remember your name longer than they will.
"Shit, which one of you idiots did I take this thing from?"
Now find out why the person in charge has legitimate cause to hate you, in 5 Scientific Reasons You're a Bad Employee. And now learn why you should be fortunate they only hate you, in The 6 Most Horrific Bosses of All Time.
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