The psychology of dictators

A 2006 study, also published in Psychological Science, used an unusual method to demonstrate this phenomenon: The researchers had participants draw a letter “E” on their foreheads. First, though, the volunteers were primed to think of themselves as either more or less powerful. The more powerful group was three times more likely to draw the “E” on their forehead so that it would be backwards to others. The implication, the researchers reported, is that powerful people become more self-oriented and care less about the perspectives of others.

A third study, this one published in 2009 in Psychological Science, found that people trained to think of themselves as powerful were more likely to believe they had control over a situation – even when they were participating in a random activity such as rolling dice.

“The illusion of personal control might be one of the ways in which power often leads to its own demise,” the researchers wrote.

Put it all together and you have a perfect recipe for tyranny: Get a taste of power, stop noticing or listening to others, and finally begin to believe you’re in charge of random events.