The Naked Power: Understanding Nonverbal Communications of Power

Where Do We Learn to Interpret Power Communication Unconsciously? 

But one important question is still open: Why exactly do we interpret size, height, and diagonal features as powerful? The jury on this question is still out, and there is not yet a theory that can explain all the cues cited in this article. The most likely interpretation is that we abstract the cues from the experiences we make as children and adolescents: The powerful are typically larger and above us in this time, and this is precisely what makes them more powerful (Schwartz et al., 1982). Moreover, angry faces conveying threat and  power display diagonal brows. Some scholars, for instance Alan Fiske (2004), also argue that evolution has equipped us with a preparedness to interpret size and height as  power.

But there may never be a complete account of the nonverbal cues that distinguish the powerful from the powerless, because there is no fixed and limited repertoire. Instead, new behaviours may constantly be invented because they serve to create and maintain  power. For instance, when people with a highly developed motive to gain social  power want to persuade others of their attitude, they actually excel in doing so – and they achieve it by effectively using three nonverbal means: gesturing and eyebrow lifts, in addition to talking very fluently (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2002). Furthermore, it seems likely that people with a powermotive learn such successful influence tactics because they get a testosterone surge after successfully winning over somebody else (Schultheiss et al., 2005; Schultheiss & Rohde, 2002). In the same manner, people high in  power (motive) are likely to acquire all kinds of behaviours that give them what they strive for. Thus, the list of differences in nonverbal behaviours between powerful and powerless is probably never definite.


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