Power — asymmetric control over valued resources — is a fundamental dimension of social relations. Classical conceptualizations of power emphasize its conscious nature. In this review, we reveal how power often operates nonconsciously and identify the different methods and paradigms used to activate or create a psychological sense of power outside of conscious awareness. First, we establish that cues of power are often attended to nonconsciously, which explains why people can be so accurate at determining their own and others' level of power yet so inaccurate at identifying the specific cues diagnostic of possessing power. Second, we discuss how people are often unaware of how the possession of power fundamentally alters basic psychological and behavioral tendencies and describe the range of methodologies — roles, cues, episodic recall, conceptual priming — used to identify the nonconscious effects of power. Power produces two broad types of effects: It increases abstraction in thought and approach in behavior, both of which make individuals more focused on their own goals and internal states. Like other psychological constructs and processes, even ones that are inherently social and relational, power's cues and consequences do not have to be conscious for its profound influence on basic psychological and interpersonal processes to emerge. We discuss the implications of the nonconscious nature of power for limiting the corrupting, dark side often revealed among the powerful.

P. Smith and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Social and Personality Psychology Compass

Full Citation

Smith, P. and Adam Galinsky
. “The nonconscious nature of power: Cues and consequences.”
Social and Personality Psychology Compass
, (January 01, 2010):