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Who Gets Power — And Why It Can Corrupt Even The Best Of Us

We explore research on who rises to power, and how power affects those who have it, on this week's Hidden Brain.
Gary Waters
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Getty Images/Ikon Images

If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

But this turns out to be only one side of our psychology.

We also feel envious — even resentful of the rich and powerful — and that ambivalence is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history.

This week on Hidden Brain, we're looking at power from different perspectives: First, why we adore the rich, and yet are equally thrilled to watch their marriages crumble in the tabloids. In the second half of our show, we look at how we gain influence, and what happens to us once we have it.

"Power is part of every moment of our social lives," researcher Dacher Keltner says. "We've got to be aware of it. It can lead us to do foolish things, and we should try to do the things that make it a force for good."

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Tara Boyle, Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, Parth Shah, and Rhaina Cohen. Chris Benderev also contributed to this week's show. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories every week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Chris Benderev is a founding producer of and also reports stories for NPR's documentary-style podcast, Embedded. He's driven into coal mines, watched as a town had to shutter its only public school after 100 years in operation, and, recently, he's followed the survivors of a mass shooting for two years to understand what happens after they fade from the news. He's also investigated the pseudoscience behind a national chain of autism treatment facilities. As a producer, he's made stories about ISIS, voting rights and Donald Trump's business history. Earlier in his career, he was a producer at NPR's Weekend Edition, Morning Edition, Hidden Brain and the TED Radio Hour.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.