Having social power inhibits empathy

“Our lab has found that high-power people (say, the president or members of the numerical majority) are more likely to misinterpret nonverbal behavior. The experience of having power makes us less accurate in reading suffering on the faces of strangers and emotions in static photos of facial expressions. Powerful people are less able to take the perspective of others; they’re quicker to confuse friendliness with flirtatiousness. This is the empathy deficit of people in power, one found in many kinds of studies.”

“There is some evidence from Princeton’s Susan Fiske and Penn State’s Theresa Vescio that high-power people, in not attending carefully to others, are more likely to stereotype others, and more likely to miss individual nuances in behavior. This means that some white-majority football fans may be falling victim to the stereotype of African Americans—particularly large, well-muscled, pro football players—as violent and aggressive. In fact, as we’ve discussed, kneeling is actually the opposite of an aggressive signal.”




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