Felt Power Explains the Link Between Position Power and Experienced Emotions

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The approach/inhibition theory by Keltner, Gruenfeld, and Anderson (2003) predicts that powerful people should feel more positive and less negative emotions. To date, results of studies investigating this prediction are inconsistent. We fill this gap with four studies in which we investigated the role of different conceptualizations of power: felt power and position power. In Study 1, participants were made to feel more or less powerful and we tested how their felt power was related to different emotional states. In Studies 2, 3, and 4, participants were assigned to either a high or a low power role and engaged in an interaction with a virtual human, after which participants reported on how powerful they felt and the emotions they experienced during the interaction. We meta-analytically combined the results of the four studies and found that felt power was positively related to positive emotions (happiness and serenity) and negatively to negative emotions (fear, anger, and sadness), whereas position power did not show any significant overall relation with any of the emotional states. Importantly, felt power mediated the relationship between position power and emotion. In summary, we show that how powerful a person feels in a given social interaction is the driving force linking the person’s position power to his or her emotional states.

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