Power corrupts co-operation: cognitive and motivational effects in a double EEG paradigm

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This study investigated the effect of interpersonal power on co-operative performance. We used a paired electro-encephalogram paradigm: pairs of participants performed an attention task, followed by feedback indicating monetary loss or gain on every trial. Participants were randomly allocated to the power-holder, subordinate or neutral group by creating different levels of control over how a joint monetary reward would be allocated. We found that power was associated with reduced behavioural accuracy. Event-related potential analysis showed that power-holders devoted less motivational resources to their targets than did subordinates or neutrals, but did not differ at the level of early conflict detection. Their feedback potential results showed a greater expectation of rewards but reduced subjective magnitude attributed to losses. Subordinates, on the other hand, were asymmetrically sensitive to power-holders’ targets. They expected fewer rewards, but attributed greater significance to losses. Our study shows that power corrupts balanced co-operation with subordinates.

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