Washington, December 2 : As Barack Obama moves closer to the January date when he will begin his term as the 44th U.S. President, new research suggests that people need not worry that the traditional ways of working at the White House will adversely influence his thoughts.
Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the collaborative study has found that people are unlikely to be influenced by others when they are in a high power position.
The researchers behind the study say that powerful people tend to be comfortable relying on their own attitudes, insights, expressions, and intentions.
"Our research suggests that people may not need to worry too much about power corrupting Obama," said Joe Magee of New York University, a member of the research team.
"His newfound power might enable the change he desires rather than that power changing him instead. This is contrary to what most people think: that the longer he works in Washington the more he will be influenced by the same old ways of doing things," he added.
Lead researcher Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said: "Our findings indicate that the powerful will generate creative ideas that are less influenced by others, be more likely to express attitudes that don't necessarily conform to prevailing peer pressure, and be more willing to counter with opposing views or statements in a discussion or argument."
The researchers carried out five experiments in order to determine whether the powerful are immune to influence in various situations, two of which were aimed at exploring the effect of power on creativity.
One experiment saw individuals participating in a marketing exercise and creating novel names for a number of different product types.
To give them some guidance in the task, they were shown examples of the kinds of names typically found for each product, but they were not allowed to copy any aspects of the examples provided.
The researchers point out that the problem for creativity is that examples typically place boundaries on imagination.
However, the results of the experiment showed that the high-power individuals had generated more novel responses that did not reflect attributes of the examples, suggesting that their creative thinking was less constrained than the thinking of low-power individuals.
The team examined susceptibility to conformity pressure from peers among participants with high or low power through another experiment, in which they were made to complete a task that most people disliked.
After completing the task, low-power and baseline participants' opinions of the task were influenced by a bogus feedback sheet displaying that ostensible previous participants had greatly enjoyed the task.
By comparison, high-power participants expressed dissatisfaction with the task, resisting the supposedly favourable opinions expressed by others.
The researchers deduced from that observation that high-power participants did not conform to what they believed others were thinking.
Another experiment had high-power individuals negotiate based on their deeply held values about cooperation and competition. Low-power individuals were found to be more likely to be influenced by the behaviour of their opponents.
The research also suggests that power, by leading people to express their underlying attitudes and thoughts uninfluenced by others, reveals rather than makes the person.
"Although power is often thought of as a pernicious force that corrupts people who possess it, it is the protection from situational influence that helps powerful individuals surmount social obstacles and express the seemingly unpopular ideas of today that transform into the ideals of tomorrow," Galinsky concluded.