On keeping your enemies close: Powerful leaders seek proximity to ingroup power threats

Nicole L. Mead*, Jon K. Maner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

55 Scopus citations

Abstract

Throughout history, humans have had to detect and deflect myriad threats from their social and physical environment in order to survive and flourish. When people detect a threat, the most common response is avoidance. In the present research, the authors provide evidence that ingroup power threats elicit a very different response. Three experiments supported the hypothesis that dominant leaders seek proximity to ingroup members who pose a threat to their power, as a way to control and downregulate the threat that those members pose. In each experiment, leaders high (but not low) in dominance motivation sought proximity to an ingroup member who threatened their power. Consistent with the hypothesis that increased proximity was designed to help leaders protect their own power, the proximity effect was apparent only under conditions of unstable power (not stable power), only in the absence of intergroup competition (not when a rival outgroup was present), and only toward a threatening group member (not a neutral group member). Moreover, the effect was mediated by perceptions of threat (Experiment 1) and the desire to monitor the threatening group member (Experiment 3). These results shed new light on one key strategy through which dominant leaders try to maintain control over valuable yet potentially threatening group members. Findings have implications for theories of power, leadership, and group behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-591
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume102
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012

Keywords

  • Dominance
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Power
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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