Jonah Lehrer on Power and Change

According to Illahee Lectures speaker Jonah Lehrer, power confers arrogance, or at least a measurable dose of immorality.  In his blog Leher reviews research by Joris Lammers and  Adam Galinsky showing that subjects placed in hypothetical “high-power” and “low-power” situations behave differently when they must make moral decisions.  It basically comes down to high-power individuals justifying their actions in the context of being “important.” Then there’s the isolation that comes with power, making it easier to make immoral decisions, because you don’t see the people who are adversely affected. This doesn’t bode well for a society in which many important business and policy decisions are made behind closed doors by people who have little interaction with the general population. In this regard, Lehrer notes Barack Obama’s “insistence on not becoming informationally isolated, whether that’s by reading ten letters from constituents every day or following a variety of blogs.”

On the subject of changing our behavior, Leher notes in his blog that peer groups make it a lot easier or harder to muster self-control. If everyone else is eating Big Macs and slurping Big Gulps, it’s tough to stick with tofu and carrots.  Same goes for Hummers versus bicycles.  It’s not lost on us that if we’re going to reduce our footprint on the planet, it’s going to be a lot easier if our peers are trying to do the same thing. Is this why places like Portland have trended green faster than places like Houston?  Makes sense to us. Maybe a bunch of us should move to Houston to reinforce our green brethren there. Or would a Houston peer group encourage a Portland transplant to start living large?


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