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Who Gets Power — And Why It Can Corrupt Even The Best Of Us

We explore research on who rises to power, and how power affects those who have it, on this week's Hidden Brain.
Gary Waters
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Getty Images/Ikon Images

If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

But this turns out to be only one side of our psychology.

We also feel envious — even resentful of the rich and powerful — and that ambivalence is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history.

This week on Hidden Brain, we're looking at power from different perspectives: First, why we adore the rich, and yet are equally thrilled to watch their marriages crumble in the tabloids. In the second half of our show, we look at how we gain influence, and what happens to us once we have it.

"Power is part of every moment of our social lives," researcher Dacher Keltner says. "We've got to be aware of it. It can lead us to do foolish things, and we should try to do the things that make it a force for good."

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Tara Boyle, Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, Parth Shah, and Rhaina Cohen. Chris Benderev also contributed to this week's show. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories every week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.