Science | July 14, 2017 9:55 am

Power Can Make Leaders Less Effective By Changing Their Brains

Research explains how hubris tricks the leaders into being less empathetic.

Power Changes the Brain
Research suggests that arrogant leaders suffer from a change in their brain, known as the "power paradox." (Getty Images)

Power really does go to some people’s heads.

Excessively proud leaders tend to be more obtuse than more humble ones because their power affects how their brain works. Neuroscientists recently concluded power can reduce the mental facilities that a leader needs to acquire it in the first place.

It’s a process that’s been described by Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, as the “power paradox.” Empathy decreases as one’s stature increases. According to The Atlantic, Keltner found that, over time, individuals in power became more impulsive, less aware of risks, and less able to see other people’s perspective.

Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at Ontario’s McMaster University discovered actual brain damage supporting the Keltner’s power paradox. The neural process known as “mirroring,” a key component in empathetic behavior, was more impaired in the brains of more powerful people, The Atlantic reports.

As people rise in stature, they naturally take on greater responsibility. The brain responds to this increased demand by filtering how things it deems to be unnecessary. Things that were once important, such as employee development or thought diversity, are likely to be replaced with something directly tied to the new role, like the company’s bottom line.