Think Powerful People Have It All Over You? Not When It Comes to Making a Decision on Something That's Ambiguous.

Who's the most powerful person in your world?  Your boss?  Your spouse?  Your mother?

If you picked any one of these, relax.  When powerful people are faced with ambiguous circumstances, they're often at a loss, according to  Faced with ambivalence, powerful people are less decisive.

Say what? 

The web site reports that, although powerful people often tend to decide and act quickly, they become more indecisive than others when the decisions are toughest to make, a new study suggests, suggests a new study   published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Researchers found that when people who feel powerful also feel ambivalent about a decision – torn between two equally good or bad choices – they actually have a harder time taking action than people who feel less powerful.

That’s different than when powerful people are confronted by a simpler decision in which most evidence favors a clear choice. In those cases, they are more decisive and act more quickly than others.

I'm a pretty quick decider.  Most of the time it's a good thing.  Picking out paint for our bathroom (Mighty Aphrodite, or simply, purple).  Selecting a name for our child.  Even choosing a husband (though we didn't decide to get married for over 10 years).

“We found that ambivalence made everyone slower in making a decision, but it particularly affected people who felt powerful. They took the longest to act,” says Geoff Durso, lead author of the study and doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University.

Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State, adds that other research he and his colleagues have done suggests that feeling powerful gives people more confidence in their own thoughts.

That’s fine when you have a clear idea about the decision you want to make. But if you feel powerful and also ambivalent about a decision you face, that can make you feel even more conflicted than others would be, he says. "If you think both your positive thoughts and your negative thoughts are right, you’re going to become frozen and take longer to make a decision,” Petty notes.

 In the study, after answering how much they wanted to delay the decision, the moment of truth came for the participants. In one part of the study, they had to decide whether to promote a person by clicking a key on a computer keyboard. In a second study, they decided whether to fire him the same way.

Without their knowledge, the researchers measured how long it took participants to click the key to promote or fire the subject.

Findings showed that, across the board, people took more time to decide when faced with the employee profile that mixed positive and negative behaviors. But those who were feeling powerful still took significantly longer to make their decision than did those who were feeling relatively powerless.

“Powerful people feel more confident than others in their own thoughts, they think their thoughts are more useful and more true. But that can be a problem if your thought is that you’re not really sure the best way to proceed,” Durso says. “Meanwhile, people who feel less powerful are less sure about the validity of their thoughts anyway, so they think they might as well just make a decision.”


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