According to research from Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, power can actually change how the brain functions. “Many people who have witnessed a colleague get promoted to an executive level have probably seen some changes in their behavior. Power has a profound effect on the neurocognitive system underlying behavior.”
Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in specific regions of the brain, the researchers discovered that the areas of the brain that deal with empathy were significantly less responsive in people in power.
Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at University of California, Berkeley, also discovered that people who have power suffer deficits in empathy, the ability to read emotions, and the ability to adapt behaviors to other people.
He found that people “under the influence of power acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury, becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.”
“I’ve observed that people rise on the basis of their good qualities, but their behavior grows increasingly worse as they move up the ladder,” Keltner reported in the Harvard Business Review.
“Studies show that wealth and credentials can have a similar effect. In another experiment, Paul Piff of UC Irvine and I found that whereas drivers of the least expensive vehicles—Dodge Colts, Plymouth Satellites—always ceded the right-of-way to pedestrians in a crosswalk, people driving luxury cars such as BMWs and Mercedes yielded only 54% of the time; nearly half the time they ignored the pedestrian and the law.”
“Studies show that people in positions of corporate power are three times as likely as those at the lower rungs of the ladder to interrupt coworkers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things at the office.”
Roughly one-fifth of top corporate professionals have ‘extremely high’ levels of psychopathic traits, according to an Australian study published in 2016. This is about the same rate as seen among prisoners.
Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks noted: “The successful psychopath may engage in unethical and illegal business practices and have a toxic impact on other employees.”
Brooks says the term ‘successful psychopath’, which describes high-flyers with psychopathic traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentric, charming and superficial, emerged in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, prompting a range of new studies.