LEADERSHIP / FEB. 28, 2015
version 2, draft 2

How Power Affects Our Perceptions Of Time

While Einstein showed how time can slow down under the right conditions, we have yet to find any way of applying that to everyday life. A recent study suggests however that this physical restraint doesn’t seem to stop the powerful amongst us from believing they can bend time to their will.

The study, from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that when we feel powerful, we often feel as though we are able to control time, including the amount of it we have at our disposal.

“Given that the objective experience of time is uniform for everyone, it would seem safe to assume that all people perceive time in the same way,” the authors write. “Instead, across 557 participants, five studies, and several ancillary studies, we established that power leads to an increase in perceived time availability.”

Of course, you might argue that powerful people do tend to have more control over their time than most. They can cancel meetings at the last minute or ask their personal assistants to manage their diary for them.  Even taking account of all of these things however, the study still revealed that powerful people believe they have more control over their time than those with less power.

About the Study

Participants in the study were told that they would be undertaking a brain-teaser with another person. Each person in the pair would be assigned a role that had either high power (i.e., the boss) or low power (i.e., the subordinate).

Those in the boss position were instructed to manage their partner on the kind of challenges they should solve, the answers to those challenges and how any rewards should be divided between them upon completion. The subordinate had no input into any of these matters at all.

To further embed the power differential between the two, those given the title of boss were given a high-end office chair to sit in. The high-end chair was also adjusted so as to be higher than the budget chair given to the ’subordinate’.

Once the task had been completed, each person was asked to complete a questionnaire that was designed to measure their perceptions of time (in life in general rather than specifically on the task).

The results revealed that those in the managerial position believed themselves to have more time than their less powerful partner.

Interestingly, a second experiment suggested that such perceptions can also be derived from a feeling of stress. For the second experiment, participants were asked to visualise an interview situation. Just as with the first experiment, half were in the role of the interviewer (powerful) and the other half the interviewee (low power).

Each person then completed the same questionnaire, but this time with an additional series of questions around stress. The results revealed that there seems to be a direct relationship between stress and how we perceive time.  The powerful group reported both lower stress levels and the most time while the opposite was the case for their low power peers.

“Not only does power influence perceived control over time, but perceiving control over time leads to a subjective sense that more time is available,” the authors conclude. “This suggests that it isn’t simply the case that powerful people actually have more control over their time, but that powerful people also perceive having control over time even when they don’t.”

Do you think that people with more power have more time? Your thoughts and comments below please...

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