Power and Decision Making: New Directions for Research in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Fast, N.J., and Schroeder, J. (2020). Current Opinion in Psychology.

Throughout history, the experience of power has occurred within the context of human-human interactions. Such power can influence decision making through at least two primary mechanisms: 1) increased goal-orientation, and 2) increased activation of social role expectations. Importantly, new advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are creating the potential to experience power in human-AI interactions. To the extent that some forms of AI can be made to seem like low-power humans (e.g., autonomous digital assistants), people may feel powerful when interacting with such entities. However, it is unclear whether feeling power over AI will lead to the same psychological consequences as feeling power over humans. In this article, we review findings on power and decision making and then consider how they may be meaningfully extended by considering interactions with artificially intelligent digital assistants. We conclude with a call for new theorizing and research on power in the age of artificial intelligence.

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Privacy Matters… Or Does It? Algorithms, Rationalization, and the Erosion of Concern for Privacy

Fast, N.J., and Jago, A.S. (2020). Current Opinion in Psychology, 31, 44-48.

Products and services built around artificially intelligent algorithms offer a host of benefits to users but they require vast amounts of personal data in return. As a result, privacy is perhaps more vulnerable today than ever before. We posit that this vulnerability is not only technical, but psychological. Whereas people have historically cared about and fought for the right to privacy, the diffusion and conveniences of algorithms could be systematically eroding people’s capacity and psychological motivation to take meaningful action. Specifically, we examine four factors that increase the tendency to rationalize privacy-reducing algorithms: 1) awareness of the benefits and conveniences of algorithms, 2) a low perceived probability of experiencing harm, 3) exposure to negative consequences only after usage has already begun, and 4) certainty that losing privacy is inevitable. We suggest that future research should consider these and related factors in order to better understand the changing psychology of privacy.

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Technology and Social Evaluation: Implications for Individuals and Organizations

Raveendhran, R., and Fast, N.J. (2019). In In R. N. Landers (Ed) The Cambridge Handbook of Technology and Employee Behavior, Cambridge University Press.

In this chapter, we introduce the central idea that, in social situations where the possibility of evaluation by others is salient, technology reduces concerns about social evaluation. We build on this idea to develop insights about the psychological and behavioral consequences of novel technologies for organizational actors. Specifically, we focus on two of the most influential types of new technologies that are becoming popular in organizations – behavior-tracking technology and virtual/augmented reality. We ground our discussion of the psychological impact of these new technologies in the context of monitoring and communication, two key organizational functions that have been continually transformed by technological advances. We present a detailed discussion on behavior-tracking technology and virtual/augmented reality where we explore the opportunities and challenges of using these technologies for monitoring and communication, and examine how these technologies influence people’s experiences of social evaluation in these contexts.

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Lacking Status Hinders Prosocial Behavior Among the Powerful

Cho, Y., and Fast, N.J. (2018). Social Behavior and Personality, 46, 1547-1560.

We conducted 2 studies to examine if status has varying effects on prosocial behavior for those at different levels of the power hierarchy. In Study 1 (N = 78), adults employed full-time in the USA responded to an online survey and the results showed that self-perceived power and status interacted to predict prosocial behavior. That is, lacking status led high-power, but not low-power, individuals to engage less in prosocial behavior. In Study 2 (N = 142), we orthogonally manipulated status and power and measured prosocial behavior. Once again, lacking status led to less helping behavior among high-power, but not low-power, participants. These findings show how power and status interact to influence interpersonal helping behavior. Implications for future research on social hierarchy and prosocial behavior are discussed.

Identity and Professional Networking

Raj, M., Fast, N.J., and Fisher, O. (2017). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43, 772-784.

Despite evidence that large professional networks afford a host of financial and professional benefits, people vary in how motivated they are to build such networks. To help explain this variance, the present article moves beyond a rational self-interest account to examine the possibility that identity shapes individuals’ intentions to network. Study 1 established a positive association between viewing professional networking as identity-congruent and the tendency to prioritize strengthening and expanding one’s professional network. Study 2 revealed that manipulating the salience of the self affects networking intentions, but only among those high in networking identity-congruence. Study 3 further established causality by experimentally manipulating identity-congruence to increase networking intentions. Study 4 examined whether identity or self-interest is a better predictor of networking intentions, providing support for the former. These findings indicate that identity influences the networks people develop. Implications for research on the self, identity-based motivation, and professional networking are discussed.

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When the Bases of Social Hierarchy Collide: Power Without Status Drives Interpersonal Conflict

Anicich, E.M., Fast, N.J., Halevy, N., and Galinsky, A.D. (2016). Organization Science, 27, 123-140.

Leveraging the social hierarchy literature, the present research offers a role-based account of the antecedents of interpersonal conflict. Specifically, we suggest that the negative feelings and emotions resulting from the experience of occupying a low-status position interact with the action-facilitating effects of power to produce vicious cycles of interpersonal conflict and demeaning behavior. Five studies demonstrate that power without status leads to interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment, both in specific dyadic work relationships and among organizational members more broadly. Study 1 provides initial support for the prediction that employees in low-status/high-power roles engage in more conflict with coworkers than all other combinations of status and power. In Studies 2a and 2b, a yoked experimental design replicated this effect and established low-status/high-power roles as a direct source of the interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment. Study 3 used an experimental manipulation of relative status and power within specific dyadic relationships in the workplace and found evidence of a vicious cycle of interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment within any dyad that included a low-status/high-power individual. Finally, Study 4 utilized survey and human resource data from a large government agency to replicate the power without status effect on interpersonal conflict and demonstrate that power interacts with subjective status change to produce a similar effect; increasing the status of a high-power role reduces conflict whereas decreasing its status increases conflict. Taken together, these findings offer a role-based account of interpersonal conflict and highlight the importance of making a theoretical distinction between status and power.

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Institutional Frame Switching: How Institutional Logics Shape Individual Action

Glaser, V. L., Fast, N.J., Harmon, D. J., and Green, S. E. (2016). In J. Gehman , M. Lounsbury , & R. Greenwood (Eds.) How Institutions Matter! Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 48A, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 35-69.

Although scholars increasingly use institutional logics to explain macro-level phenomena, we still know little about the micro-level psychological mechanisms by which institutional logics shape individual action. In this paper, we propose that individuals internalize institutional logics as an associative network of schemas that shapes individual actions through a process we call institutional frame switching. Specifically, we conduct two novel experiments that demonstrate how one particularly important schema associated with institutional logics—the implicit theory—can drive individual action. This work further develops the psychological underpinnings of the institutional logics perspective by connecting macro-level cultural understandings with micro-level situational behavior.

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Feeling High But Playing Low: Power, Need to Belong, and Submissive Behavior

Rios, K., Fast, N.J., and Gruenfeld, D.H. (2015). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 1135-1146.

Past research has demonstrated a causal relationship between power and dominant behavior, motivated in part by the desire to maintain the social distinctiveness created by one’s position of power. In this article, we test the novel idea that some individuals respond to high-power roles by displaying not dominance but instead submissiveness. We theorize that high-power individuals who are also high in the need to belong experience the social distinctiveness associated with power as threatening, rather than as an arrangement to protect and maintain. We predict that such individuals will counter their feelings of threat with submissive behaviors to downplay their power and thereby reduce their distinctiveness. We found support for this hypothesis across three studies using different operationalizations of power, need to belong, and submissiveness. Furthermore, Study 3 illustrated the mediating role of fear of (positive) attention in the relationship between power, need to belong, and submissive behavior.

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Managing to Stay in the Dark: Managerial Self-Efficacy, Ego-Defensiveness, and the Aversion to Employee Voice

Fast, N.J., Burris, E.R., and Bartel, C.A. (2014). Academy of Management Journal, 57, 1013-1034.

Soliciting and incorporating employee voice is essential to organizational performance, yet some managers display a strong aversion to improvement-oriented input from subordinates. To help to explain this maladaptive tendency, we tested the hypothesis that managers with low managerial self-efficacy (that is, low perceived ability to meet the elevated competence expectations associated with managerial roles) seek to minimize voice as a way of compensating for a threatened ego. The results of two studies support this idea. In a field study (Study 1), managers with low managerial self-efficacy were less likely than others to solicit input, leading to lower levels of employee voice. A follow-up experimental study (Study 2) showed that: (a) manipulating low managerial self-efficacy led to voice aversion (that is, decreased voice solicitation, negative evaluations of an employee who spoke up, and reduced implementation of voice); and (b) the observed voice aversion associated with low managerial self-efficacy was driven by ego defensiveness. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings, as well as highlight directions for future research on voice, management, and leadership.

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Decision Making at the Top: Benefits and Barriers

Fast, N.J. and Joshi, P.D. (2014). In J. T. Cheng, Tracy, J. L., & Anderson, C. (Eds.), The Psychology of Social Status, 227-242.

This chapter examines how one’s relative position in a social hierarchy influences decision making. In particular, it explores the psychological processes that facilitate and hinder effective decisions by those at the top of the hierarchy. Two mechanisms central to the experience of power—increased subjective sense of control and prescriptive role expectations—are discussed. We highlight both the psychological benefits and barriers associated with an elevated sense of control as well as with role expectations that prescribe that one be highly competent. The chapter concludes with a discussion of implications for decision makers along with suggested directions for future research.

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I Am My (High-Power) Role: Power and Role Identification

Joshi, P.D. and Fast, N.J. (2013). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 898-910.

Research indicates that power liberates the self, but findings also show that the powerful are susceptible to situational influences. The present article examines whether enacting roles that afford power leads people to identify with the roles or, instead, liberates them from role expectations altogether. The results of three experiments support the hypothesis that power enhances role identification. Experiment 1 showed that enacting a particular role resulted in greater implicit and explicit role identification when the role contained power. In Experiment 2, infusing a role with power resulted in greater role identification and role-congruent behavior. Experiment 3 demonstrated that power resulted in greater role-congruent self-construal, such that having power in a close relationship caused participants to define themselves relationally, whereas having power in a group situation caused participants to embrace a collective self-construal. Implications for research on power, roles, and the self are discussed.

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Power and Reduced Temporal Discounting

Joshi, P.D. and Fast, N.J. (2013). Psychological Science, 24, 432-438.

Decision makers generally feel disconnected from their future selves, an experience that leads them to prefer smaller immediate gains to larger future gains. This pervasive tendency is known as temporal discounting, and researchers across disciplines are interested in understanding how to overcome it. Following recent advances in the power literature, we suggest that the experience of power enhances one’s connection with the future self, which in turn results in reduced temporal discounting. In Study 1, we found that participants assigned to high-power roles were less likely than participants assigned to low-power roles to display temporal discounting. In Studies 2 and 3, priming power reduced temporal discounting in monetary and nonmonetary tasks, and, further, connection with the future self mediated the relation between power and reduced discounting. In Study 4, experiencing a general sense of power in the workplace predicted actual lifetime savings. These results have important implications for future research.

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Power and Overconfident Decision-Making

Fast, N.J., Sivanathan, N., Mayer, N.D., and Galinsky, A.D. (2012). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 117, 249-260.

Five experiments demonstrate that experiencing power leads to overconfident decision-making. Using multiple instantiations of power, including an episodic recall task (Experiments 1–3), a measure of work-related power (Experiment 4), and assignment to high- and low-power roles (Experiment 5), power produced overconfident decisions that generated monetary losses for the powerful. The current findings, through both mediation and moderation, also highlight the central role that the sense of power plays in producing these decision-making tendencies. First, sense of power, but not mood, mediated the link between power and overconfidence (Experiment 3). Second, the link between power and overconfidence was severed when access to power was not salient to the powerful (Experiment 4) and when the powerful were made to feel personally incompetent in their domain of power (Experiment 5). These findings indicate that only when objective power leads people to feel subjectively powerful does it produce overconfident decision-making.

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The Destructive Nature of Power Without Status

Fast, N.J., Halevy, N., and Galinsky, A.D. (2012). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 391-394.

The current research explores how roles that possess power but lack status influence behavior toward others. Past research has primarily examined the isolated effects of having either power or status, but we propose that power and status interact to affect interpersonal behavior. Based on the notions that a) low-status is threatening and aversive and b) power frees people to act on their internal states and feelings, we hypothesized that power without status fosters demeaning behaviors toward others. To test this idea, we orthogonally manipulated both power and status and gave participants the chance to select activities for their partners to perform. As predicted, individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog, say “I am filthy”) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles. We discuss how these results clarify, challenge, and advance the existing power and status literatures.

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Power, Defensive Denigration, and the Assuaging Effect of Gratitude Expression

Cho, Y. and Fast, N.J. (2012). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 778-782.

This article examines the interactive effects of power, competency threats, and gratitude expression on the tendency to denigrate others. The results of two experiments indicate that (1) power holders whose competence has been threatened are more likely than others to denigrate interaction partners, and (2) receiving gratitude expression has self-affirming effects for insecure power holders. Experiment 1 demonstrated that high-power, but not low-power, individuals who received threatening feedback about their competence denigrated the competence of their partners. Importantly, this tendency was ameliorated when subordinates expressed gratitude for previous help provided from the power holder. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the ameliorating effect of gratitude expression on threatened power holders' tendency to denigrate subordinates is mediated by increased perceptions of social worth. Implications for research on power, gratitude expression, and the self are discussed.

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Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions

Fast, N.J. and Tiedens, L.Z. (2010). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 97-106.

When people blame others for their mistakes, they learn less and perform worse. This problem is magnified when blame becomes embedded in the shared culture of groups and organizations. Yet, little is known about whether—and, if so, how—the propensity to blame spreads from one person to another. Four experiments addressed this issue, demonstrating that blame is socially contagious: observing an individual make a blame attribution increased the likelihood that people would make subsequent blame attributions for their own, unrelated, failures (Experiments 1, 2, and 4). Results also indicated that this “blame contagion” is due to the transmission of goals. Blame exposure led to the inference and adoption of a self-image protection goal (Experiment 3), and blame contagion was eliminated when observers had the opportunity to alleviate this self-image protection goal via self-affirmation (Experiment 4). Implications for research on causal attributions, social contagion, and cultural transmission are discussed.

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When the Boss Feels Inadequate: Power, Incompetence, and Aggression

Fast, N. J. and Chen, S. (2009). Psychological Science, 20, 1406-1413.

When and why do power holders seek to harm other people? The present research examined the idea that aggression among the powerful is often the result of a threatened ego. Four studies demonstrated that individuals with power become aggressive when they feel incompetent in the domain of power. Regardless of whether power was measured in the workplace (Studies 1 and 4), manipulated via role recall (Study 2), or assigned in the laboratory (Study 3), it was associated with heightened aggression when paired with a lack of self-perceived competence. As hypothesized, this aggression appeared to be driven by ego threat: Aggressiveness was eliminated among participants whose sense of self-worth was boosted (Studies 3 and 4). Taken together, these findings suggest that (a) power paired with self-perceived incompetence leads to aggression, and (b) this aggressive response is driven by feelings of ego defensiveness. Implications for research on power, competence, and aggression are discussed.

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Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture

Fast, N.J., Heath, C., and Wu, G. (2009). Psychological Science, 20, 904-911.

Why do well-known ideas, practices, and people maintain their cultural prominence in the presence of equally good or better alternatives? This article suggests that a social-psychological process whereby people seek to establish common ground with their conversation partners causes familiar elements of culture to increase in prominence, independently of performance or quality. Two studies tested this hypothesis in the context of professional baseball, showing that common ground predicted the cultural prominence of baseball players better than their performance, even though clear performance metrics are available in this domain. Regardless of performance, familiar players, who represented common ground, were discussed more often than lesser-known players, both in a dyadic experiment (Study 1) and in natural discussions on the Internet (Study 2). Moreover, these conversations mediated the positive link between familiarity and a more institutionalized measure of prominence: All-Star votes (Study 2). Implications for research on the psychological foundations of culture are discussed.

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Illusory Control: A Generative Force Behind Power’s Far-Reaching Effects

Fast, N.J., Gruenfeld, D.H, Sivanathan, N., and Galinsky, A.D. (2009). Psychological Science, 20, 502-508.

Three experiments demonstrated that the experience of power leads to an illusion of personal control. Regardless of whether power was experientially primed (Experiments 1 and 3) or manipulated through roles (manager vs. subordinate; Experiment 2), it led to perceived control over outcomes that were beyond the reach of the power holder. Furthermore, this illusory control mediated the influence of power on several self-enhancement and approach-related outcomes reported in the power literature, including optimism (Experiment 2), self-esteem (Experiment 3), and action orientation (Experiment 3). These results demonstrate the theoretical importance of perceived control as a generative cause of and driving force behind many of power's far-reaching effects. A fourth experiment ruled out an alternative explanation: that positive mood, rather than illusory control, is at the root of power's effects. The discussion considers implications for existing and future research on the psychology of power, perceived control, and positive illusions.

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Group Status, Perceptions of Threat, and Support for Social Inequality

Morrison, K.R., Fast, N.J., and Ybarra, O. (2009). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 204-210.

Members of high-status groups have been shown to favor social inequality, but little research has investigated the boundary conditions of this phenomenon. In the present article we suggest that perceived intergroup threat moderates the relationship between group status and support for social inequality (i.e., social dominance orientation), especially among highly identified group members. In Study 1, Democrats and Republicans rated their party’s relative status and were later exposed to a leading US. Presidential candidate from the opposing party (high threat) or their own party (low threat). In Study 2, university students were made to believe that their school had high or low status and were then presented with threatening or non-threatening information about a rival institution. The results of both studies supported the prediction that status only increases preferences for group-based inequality under conditions of high threat and high ingroup identification.

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