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More Power Leads to More Dehumanization

The study, to be published in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that participants given more powerful roles in two experiments attributed fewer uniquely human traits—characteristics that distinguish people from other animals—to their peers who were given less powerful roles.

“I think a lot of us have the intuition that some powerful people can be pretty dehumanizing,” said Jason Gwinn, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead author of the study. “But our goal was to test if power, when randomly assigned to ordinary students, would have that effect. That would say something about power itself rather than about the sort of people who have the drive to take power.”

The researchers enlisted about 300 CU-Boulder students taking an introductory psychology course to participate in two experiments. In the first experiment, students were assigned to be either a manager or an assistant for a mock hiring task. The assistants were asked to review resumes for an open job and then list the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant. The managers then reviewed the list made by their assistants and made a final decision about whom to hire.

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