The construct of power is part of the structural foundation of social psychology. Two of social psychology's most seminal works — Milgram's experiments on obedience to authority (Milgram, 1963) and Zimbardo's prison experiment (Zimbardo, 1973, 1974) — involved differences in power. In more recent years, the contemporary landscape of social psychology continues to feature power prominently. In one recent report, the number of power-related publications appearing in top social psychology journals has approximately doubled in the last five years compared to the previous five years (Galinsky, Rucker, & Magee, 2015).
Although work on power has spanned more than fifty years in social psychology, researchers have been largely silent in considering power's role in consumer behavior. As one relevant indicator, only in the last five years have papers on power begun to appear regularly in journals focused more on consumer behavior and consumption contexts such as the Journal of Consumer Research (e.g., Dubois, Rucker, & Galinsky, 2012; Jiang, Zhan, & Rucker, 2014; Jin, He, Zhang, 2014; Kim & McGill, 2011; Rucker & Galinsky, 2008; Rucker, Dubois, & Galinsky, 2011). The recent embrace of power by consumer researchers provides a foothold for the construct but also creates an important pivot point for the field. With power accepted as a topic important to consumer behavior, we explore what must be done to move the research agenda on power forward.
In the present chapter, we organize our analysis around three objectives. First, we familiarize readers with the general construct of power and the experimental approach used to study power. This section provides any researchers new to the study of power, or its effects on human behavior, a core foundation upon which to build. Second, we provide a review of power research most directly related to consumer behavior over the last five years. Our emphasis on the last five years is both in the spirit of this handbook and a reflection of power's recent emergence in the study of consumer psychology and consumer behavior. Finally, we emphasize important and unanswered questions for power in the study of consumer behavior. In doing so, we hope to utilize this pivot point to foster the next generation of power-related research in consumer behavior for seasoned and new researchers alike. As a whole, this chapter provides a nomological net or roadmap for the study of power built around antecedents, psychological processes, consequences, and future directions (see Figure 12.1).