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Psychol Sci. 2009 Apr;20(4):502-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02311.x. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Illusory control: a generative force behind power's far-reaching effects.

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1
Department of Organizational Behavior, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. nfast@stanford.edu

Abstract

Three experiments demonstrated that the experience of power leads to an illusion of personal control. Regardless of whether power was experientially primed (Experiments 1 and 3) or manipulated through roles (manager vs. subordinate; Experiment 2), it led to perceived control over outcomes that were beyond the reach of the power holder. Furthermore, this illusory control mediated the influence of power on several self-enhancement and approach-related outcomes reported in the power literature, including optimism (Experiment 2), self-esteem (Experiment 3), and action orientation (Experiment 3). These results demonstrate the theoretical importance of perceived control as a generative cause of and driving force behind many of power's far-reaching effects. A fourth experiment ruled out an alternative explanation: that positive mood, rather than illusory control, is at the root of power's effects. The discussion considers implications for existing and future research on the psychology of power, perceived control, and positive illusions.

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