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The Winner Effect

How Power Affects Your Brain

Ian Robertson

1996 study compared 15 and 16 yo students at 2 high schools in NE US. One in a very poor area, the other in one of the wealthiest suburbs in country. Found that the richer adolescents were much more anxious and depressed, and used more cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol.

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Successful peoples' time is valuable, and the higher their earnings, the more each hour is worth. So the economic logic to maximise family income is to work long hours in the business and contract out the mundane household and child-rearing tasks to lower-paid servants. End result is rich kids spend less time with parents and feel less emotionally close to them.

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Analogy of the Hidden Ladder: the child sees a parent high in the tree of success and wonders how he got there. The parent knows that he has climbed up a difficult ladder, with many small steps, some of them luck, some of them persistence, and others due to skill and application. But something happens to most successful people - they hide the ladder. In the self-satisfaction of their success, they seek to be admired for their greatness and do not wish to see the 'greatness' tarnished by the true picture of a thousand small steps up a shaky ladder.

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Why do leaders seem to see a different reality? Expts where gave people just a bit of power over others, or even just reminded them of a time when they'd had a bit of power, increased their belief that they could influence events (such as what number would come up on a dice). So people like Hitler or Napoleon quite probably had fundamental changes to their brains which allowed them to believe that they cd send poorly equipped troops into Russia and win.

What stresses us most - financial worries? work pressure? fear of death? something happening to our kids? In fact biggest concern is over loss of social status. Sense of social rejection has most damaging effect on our health. So redundancy hurts, even when there is a financial cushion.

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We crave consistency. Being in a MRI scanner is pretty unpleasant - claustrophobic and noisy, uncomfortable and boring. Expt where got told MRI volunteers that there was a real patient who was quite apprehensive about it, and would they please reassure her by saying a lot of positive things about experience (ie, lie). Of course there was no patient, but the volunteers dutifully concealed their real feelings (which they'd just disclosed to the experimenter). And the liars actually felt that the experience had been more pleasant.

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This is cognitive dissonance in action. We are very strongly motivated to keep our actions, thoughts and beliefs consistent, so if we're manipulated into choosing to do something, we change our ideas to match the behaviour.

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