In one of the first studies to make this claim, scientists now say a default brain mechanism may cause us to lose empathy when we gain power.
“This research is important because it opens the door to examining what power does to us,” says Sukhvinder Obhi, senior author of the study at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. “We have very little understanding of how power affects the brain, both in terms of the neural causes and consequences.”
Specifically, the study showed that when you put people in a state where they feel more powerful, their sensitivity to other people dropped, including their ability to put themselves in other peoples shoes.
“So if someone is promoted, you might see a reduced processing of people, a forgetting of names, or not knowing individual members of staff,” says Obhi. “Being powerful might cause your brain to blot over those details.”