Sunday, October 3, 2021
It was enough to go to one’s head. I’d been a CEO and founder of a company, but running for office was a different animal. The people around me treated me as either a celebrity or a product that hundreds of staffers were focused on selling, and everyone in my orbit started treating me like I might be a presidential contender. I was getting a crash course in how we treat the very powerful — and it was weird.
But it was more than just a head rush. There are psychological consequences to being treated this way for months on end.
The historian Henry Adams described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” This may sound like hyperbole, but it has been borne out by years of lab and field experiments. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, has been studying the influence of power on individuals. He puts people in positions of power relative to each other in different settings. He has consistently found that power, over time, makes one more impulsive, more reckless and less able to see things from others’ points of view. It also leads one to be rude, more likely to cheat on one’s spouse, less attentive to other people, and less interested in the experiences of others.
Does that sound familiar? It turns out that power actually gives you brain damage.