Feelings of power change people’s responses to dominance displays

People tend to shy away from individuals who display domineering behaviour such as a staring gaze. These instinctive reactions to others’ dominance displays are assumed to have evolutionary roots and help establish hierarchical relations in humans and other species.

But the new findings, by Dr Mario Weick of Kent’s School of Psychology, along with Dr Cade McCall of the University of York, UK, and Professor Jim Blascovich, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, USA, show that reactions to staring gaze displays can be changed when people feel powerful.

The research was conducted using fully immersive virtual environments and involved participants walking around computer-rendered human characters that in some instances stared at the participants, and in other instances looked elsewhere.

In one study, participants were made to feel powerful or powerless before entering the virtual world. In another study, the researchers varied participants’ body height in the virtual world to make participants feel more or less powerful during interactions with shorter and taller virtual human characters. Throughout the task, the researchers used motion tracking to measure participants’ movements and the distance kept to the human characters.

Read more about this research on the Kent News Centre page. The paper, entitled Power Moves Beyond Complimentary: A Staring Look Elicits Avoidance in Low Power Perceivers and Approach in High Power Perceivers (Mario Weick, University of Kent, UK; Cade McCall, University of York, UK; Jim Blascovich, University of California at Santa Barbara, USA) is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Testimonial MSc in Political Psychology – Linus Peitz

Why did you choose this postgraduate course and institution?
I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology, I wanted to continue in this field with a focus on political issues, and the Political Psychology MSc programme at Kent, and its emphasis on quantitative methods seemed to be the perfect match for me.

Despite the fact that the course had just been introduced last term, things worked very smoothly, which is undoubtedly the achievement of the teaching and administration staff. No questions are left unanswered and whenever I encountered a problem that could not be solved via email, there is always someone available you can speak to in person, whether it’s a questions about statistical analysis, an assignment you don’t understand or anything to do with future career or research plans.

The course itself offers a great mix of social- and political-science modules, and one of its core strengths is the diversity of content. All modules, be it on group-processes, public opinion, political ideology or intergroup relations, are presented from multiple angles and it is down to the student to choose the point of emphasis. This allowed me to explore topics that were totally new to me, which there were a lot of, and apply them to issues that I am personally interested in. This ultimately led me to my current research project where I explore the ideological underpinning of attitudes towards supranational institutions, a topic that I hope to continue working on for a PhD here at Kent.