We’ve Got to Have It Under Control

Research shows having power over others and having choices in your own life share a critical foundation: control.

Research shows having power over others and having choices in your own life share a critical foundation: control.

We love being in control. When we have power, we have control over what others do; when we have choice, we have control over what happens to us personally. A study published in Psychological Science found that when we have either power or choice, we don’t strive for the other as much, but when either source of control is lacking, we have a greater need for the other.

In one experiment, volunteers who were asked to think about being in a powerless position favored the store that provided fifteen options of a desired product over a store with only three options. They were also willing to go to greater lengths (e.g. drive farther or wait longer) to get to it than volunteers who were primed with having power. In a second experiment, volunteers who were deprived of choice expressed greater aspirations to occupy a high-power position than volunteers who were given choice.

People really dislike being deprived of both power and choice, but when only one of the two is lacking, people can be content with having the other.  It’s because power and choice are just two sides of the same coin – the coin of control.


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