The corrosive effects of power have been noted for centuries, but the self-related changes responsible for those effects have remained somewhat elusive. Narcissists tend to rise to-and abuse-positions of power, so we considered the possibility that positions of power may corrupt because they inflate narcissism. Two pathways were considered: Powerholders abuse their power because having power over others makes them feel superior (grandiosity pathway) or deserving of special treatment (entitlement pathway). Supporting the entitlement pathway, assigning participants to a position of power (vs. equal control) over a group task increased scores on the Exploitative/Entitlement component of narcissism among those with high baseline testosterone. What is more, heightened Exploitative/Entitlement scores among high-testosterone participants endowed with power (vs. equal control) statistically explained amplified self-reported willingness to misuse their power (e.g., taking fringe benefits as extra compensation). The grandiosity pathway was not well supported. The Superiority/Arrogance, Self-Absorption/ Self-Admiration, and Leadership/Authority facets of narcissism did not change as a function of the power manipulation and testosterone levels. Taken together, these results suggest that people with high (but not low) testosterone may be inclined to misuse their power because having power over others makes them feel entitled to special treatment. This work identifies testosterone as a characteristic that contributes to the development of the socially toxic component of narcissism (Exploitative/Entitlement). It points to the possibility that structural positions of power and individual differences in narcissism may be mutually reinforcing, suggesting a vicious cycle with personal, relational, and societal implications.

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Department of Marketing Management

Mead, N., Baumeister, R., Stuppy, A., & Vohs, K. (2018). Power increases the socially toxic component of narcissism among individuals with high baseline testosterone. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(4), 591–596. doi:10.1037/xge0000427