The current research explores why people desire power and how that desire can be satisfied. We propose that a position of power can be subjectively experienced as conferring influence over others or as offering autonomy from the influence of others. Conversely, a low-power position can be experienced as lacking influence or lacking autonomy. Nine studies show that subjectively experiencing one’s power as autonomy predicts the desire for power, whereas the experience of influence over others does not. Furthermore, gaining autonomy quenches the desire for power, but gaining influence does not. The studies demonstrated the primacy of autonomy across both experimental and correlational designs, across measured mediation and manipulated mediator approaches, and across three different continents (Europe, United States, India). Together, these studies offer evidence that people desire power not to be a master over others, but to be master of their own domain, to control their own fate.

Joris Lammers, J.I. Stoker, F. Rink, and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Full Citation

Lammers, Joris, J.I. Stoker, F. Rink, and Adam Galinsky
. “To have control over or to be free from others? The desire for power reflects a need for autonomy.”
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
, (April 01, 2016):