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Saturday 29th October 2016

A study of mental processes

23rd May 2008

The Economist suggests that new drugs are not the only way to enhance people’s mental powers.


While drugs may enhance cognitive function, there could be a less pharmacological approach available.

Pamela Smith and her colleagues at Radboud University, Nijmegen in the Netherlands argue that “empowering? someone is effective in sharpening up their mental prowess.

The work, published in Psychological Science, followed suspicions by the team that reducing someone’s social power cut their ability to make plans to achieve goals.

Three tests focussing on concentration, memory and a planning task were formulated after the groups were divided into sub sections of superiors and subordinates. The superior group directed and evaluated the other and also determined the payment reward for the subordinate group.

The subordinates were then subdivided into empowered and powerless and asked to perform specific tasks with the powerless group having a sense of “powerless? instilled in them while the “empowered? were asked to reflect on a period when they had been in authority.

The tests showed the low-power groups making 2-5% more mistakes than the higher-powered group.

Dr Smith believes this was not because of low-power volunteers being less motivated because their rewards were the same but because those lacking in power suffered adverse cognitive effects.

This experiment could have a significant impact, particularly in the workplace. Managers often talk about empowering their workers but do not always carry that out.

But this highlights one reason why they should give workers a greater sense of empowerment, “unless, of course, they fear for their own authority.?


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