What Drives the Psychological Effects of Power? A Comparison of the Approach/Inhibition and Social Distance Theories
62 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2011
Date Written: June, 24 2011
At the time of its publication, the Approach/Inhibition Theory of Power (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003) was a major advance in the study of power, and it has generated many empirical discoveries. The theory states that by reducing one’s dependence on others, high power activates approach tendencies and a focus on rewards, whereas low power activates inhibitory tendencies and a focus on threats. Smith and Trope (2006) proposed a different mechanism, based on psychological distance, to account for the tendency of high-power individuals to engage in higher level construal than low-power individuals. We build on Smith and Trope’s ideas to develop the Social Distance Theory of Power and propose that it can explain much more than the relationship between power and construal level. In fact, many of the recent results attributed to the Approach/Inhibition Theory would also be predicted by the Social Distance Theory. Focusing on mechanisms, we identify and review the domains in which both theories could explain the major findings and also point out key areas where they make divergent predictions. We conclude by proposing a research agenda that would simultaneously deepen our understanding of the social psychology of power and test the predictive validity of both theories.
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