Feeling powerless ‘makes tasks more physically challenging’

Feeling powerless ‘makes tasks more physically challenging’

Another scientific testimonial that feeling powerless and not good enough makes things seem more difficult than they really are. Thus instead of acting people fall into procrastination and depression.

by Honor Whiteman

Do you ever have days when the simplest task can feel physically challenging? It could be down to your social and personal sense of power. New research suggests that people who feel personally and socially powerless see the world in a different light and perceive tasks to be more physically demanding, compared with individuals who have a strong sense of power.

This is according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK, led by Eun Hee Lee, say their study is the first to demonstrate that a person’s power – defined as “psychosocial construct relating to the control of resources” – can change their perception of objects, and that personal feelings about social reputation can impact an individual’s views on their physical environment.

To reach their findings, the investigators carried out a series of experiments using university students from the Cambridge campus. The participants were unaware of what they were being tested for.

Feelings of powerlessness ‘make tasks more challenging’

The first experiment involved 145 participants. They were presented with a series of statements and asked to rank how strongly they felt it applied to them. For example – “I can get people to listen to what I say.” This was to determine the participants’ beliefs regarding their power in social relationships.

The subjects were then asked to lift a number of boxes and guess how much each one weighed, before carrying out another test to determine their mood.

The researchers found that the lower a person’s feeling of social power, the more they thought the boxes weighed.

In the second experiment, 41 participants were asked to sit in a chair in one of two positions. The first was in a domineering position, with one elbow on the arm of the chair and the other on the desk next to them. The second position was more constricting. Participants sat with their shoulders dropped and hands tucked under their legs.

All subjects were again asked to guess the weight of boxes.

The researchers note that in the last experiment, the majority of participants overestimated the weight of the boxes. But after the second experiment, subjects who sat in a domineering position gave more accurate weights, while subjects in the constricting pose still overestimated weights.

In the third experiment, the researchers asked 68 participants to remember a situation in which they felt either powerful or powerless. They were then required to estimate the weight of boxes once more but were told they were being tested on the effect of exercise on autobiographical memory.

From this test, the investigators found that individuals who recalled situations in which they felt powerful gave more accurate weight estimates, while those who remembered times in which they felt powerless continued to overestimate the weights of the boxes.

The researchers hypothesize that those with feelings of powerlessness may perceive tasks as being more physically challenging because they edge on the side of caution in order to protect the limited resources they have left.

Explaining this further, the researchers say:

“The present work suggests that feeling powerless – whether due to inherent personality characteristic in dealing with others, or because of having been conferred a disadvantageous social role – leads people to perceive objects differently, presumably because they are faced with challenges for which they lack the resources to overcome them.”

They add:

“The comment made by the former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, that ‘power only tires those who do not possess it,’ therefore is no longer an unsubstantiated conjecture, but our data suggest that the world of the powerless is indeed full of heavy burdens.”

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