Lack of power enhances visual perceptual discrimination

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Weick, Mario ; Guinote, Ana ; Wilkinson, David T. (2011)

Powerless individuals face much challenge and uncertainty. As a consequence, they are highly vigilant and closely scrutinize their social environments. The aim of the present research was to determine whether these qualities enhance performance in more basic cognitive tasks involving simple visual feature discrimination. To test this hypothesis, participants performed a series of perceptual matching and search tasks involving color, texture and size discrimination. As predicted, those primed with powerlessness generated shorter reaction times and made fewer eye movements than either powerful or control participants. The results indicate that the heightened vigilance shown by powerless individuals is associated with an advantage in performing simple types of psychophysical discrimination. These findings highlight, for the first time, an underlying competency in perceptual cognition that sets powerless individuals above their powerful counterparts, an advantage that may reflect functional adaptation to the environmental challenge and uncertainty that they face.
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