Social power and approach-related neural activity

Maarten Boksem, R Smolders, D (David) De Cremer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


It has been argued that power activates a general tendency to approach whereas powerlessness activates a tendency to inhibit. The assumption is that elevated power involves reward-rich environments, freedom and, as a consequence, triggers an approach-related motivational orientation and attention to rewards. In contrast, reduced power is associated with increased threat, punishment and social constraint and thereby activates inhibition-related motivation. Moreover, approach motivation has been found to be associated with increased relative left-sided frontal brain activity, while withdrawal motivation has been associated with increased right sided activations. We measured EEG activity while subjects engaged in a task priming either high or low social power. Results show that high social power is indeed associated with greater left-frontal brain activity compared to low social power, providing the first neural evidence for the theory that high power is associated with approach-related motivation. We propose a framework accounting for differences in both approach motivation and goal-directed behaviour associated with different levels of power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-520
Number of pages5
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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