RESEARCH ON WHETHER POWER CORRUPTS. I posted here on Lord Acton’s observation that: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men….” Jonah Lehrer had an article in the Wall Street Journal (August 14-15) and here at his blog, The Frontal Cortex, on psychological research which seems to support Lord Acton. He cites studies which show that entering college freshmen with the highest scores on agreeableness and extroversion wind up at the top of their social hierarchy and says that studies of the military, corporations and politics give similar results. Then Lehrer cites Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at Berkeley on what happens after power has been achieved: “Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making.” It may be that one reason for the lack of empathy may be what is shown by Chekhov: servants are not seen. Lehrer says that people in positions of authority “spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person without power is talking.”

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  1. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    I had thought that if people were solidly in power, for example a Supreme Court Justice, that he would be free to decide issues on the basis of the soundness of the argument and for the good of the country. Now, apparently, it seems that any power should be held for only a short time, to avoid the effects of power. (Sort of like holding on to the Evil Ring of Doom. It’s going to get to you after a while, even if you’re pure of soul to begin with. . .) However, it seems that this would encourage a “grab while you can” policy, even more than exists now. So, how does one redesign a power structure that actually works for the common good?

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