It has been argued that powerlessness activates the behavioral inhibition system (BIS; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003). Here we investigated the interactive effects of powerlessness and status - driven by actual or perceived competence - on the BIS. In Experiments 1 and 2 only powerless participants who were or feared being seen as incompetent self-reported behavioral avoidance toward power holders. Similarly, in Experiment 3 only those who were powerless and incompetent showed BIS-related emotion, action, and negotiation strategies. Moreover, in Experiment 4 the effects of incompetence on avoidant behavior among powerless individuals were mediated by BIS activation, seen in measures of frontal hemisphere asymmetry. These findings support the notion that having low status on dimensions relevant to powerless roles activates the BIS, whereas higher status levels are a buffer against lack of power.
- Behavioral approach
- Behavioral inhibition