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Managers placed in charge for the first time in their career are more likely to be vindictive toward employees who make mistakes, new research suggests.
A study by researchers at the University of Kent and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the University of Adelaide in Australia revealed that people who are not accustomed to holding power are more likely to be vengeful when placed in charge compared with experienced power holders, who were found to be more tolerant of perceived wrongdoing.
Mario Weick, a researcher at the University of Kent and one of the study's co-authors, said the results provide a firm indication of the relationship between power and revenge.
"Power is not simply good or bad; it affects different people in different ways," Weick said. "Our studies highlight some of the negative effects power can have on people who are less accustomed to being in charge."
The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a series of experimental studies involving nearly 500 participants drawn from student populations and the general public. Across all four studies, participants responded to different transgressions, such as plagiarism, negligence, gossiping and a drunken violent offense. In addition, some participants were exposed to power before the researchers measured participants' inclination to seek revenge against the perpetrator, while others were not exposed to power, or experienced an episode of powerlessness.
In all four experiments, the participants who had been exposed to power and were not accustomed to having it sought more revenge than self-assured individuals who tended to exercise power more frequently. However, no difference in vengefulness was found in the group of participants who were not exposed to power.
The researchers also discovered that in some people, body posture can bring out different inclinations to retaliate. In an experiment, one group of participants stood upright with an expansive body posture, another group of participants sat crouched on the floor and another group made either a fist or an open palm while they read about transgressions.
Weick said both the expanded body posture and the fist gesture instilled a sense of power in participants and led to greater vengeance in people who were less accustomed to power compared with the more self-assured participants.
Peter Strelan, a researcher at the University of Adelaide and one of the study's co-authors, said the findings may help researchers understand how social hierarchies are formed and maintained.
"Fear of retaliation could be one reason that prevents people at the bottom of hierarchies from acquiring powerful positions," Strelan said.
The study, which was published recently in the British Journal of Social Psychology, was also co-authored by Milica Vasiljevic of the University of Cambridge.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.