Breaking Rules of Social Behavior Makes You Appear Powerful

A study published in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science, reveals interesting insights into how breaking rules of social behavior influences perceived power. The study found that those who smiled less, talked louder, and interrupted others were perceived to be more powerful.

People with power have a different world view than everyone else. They live in environments of money and support, and typically have fewer rules to follow. This is not the case of those with less power, who live with threats of punishment and firm limits.

In the study led by Gerben Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam, volunteers read stories about those who broke the rules. In the first story, a character visited an office and took an employee’s cup of coffee without asking, and in the second, accounting rules were bent by a bookkeeper. The characters who broke the rules were perceived to have more power than those who did not.

Videos were also shown to volunteers which showed people acting rudely. In the first version of a video, a man at a cafe was shown putting his feet on another chair, dropping cigarette ashes on the ground, and ordering a meal brusquely. The second version showed a man acting politely. Volunteers perceived the rude man as more likely to “get to make decisions” and able to “get people to listen to what he says.”

Van Kleef and his team also looked at when people interacted with rule breakers. They had one actor behave politely, while another came late, threw his bag on the table, and put his feet up. Observers of this interaction also perceived the rule breaker to have more power and more likely to “get others to do what he wants.”

“Norm violators are perceived as having the capacity to act as they please,” said the researchers. Displaying these nonverbal behaviors of rudeness leads other to believe you posses power.

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