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The Power Motive, Power, and Fear of Weakness Victor Nell & D.J.W. Strumpfer Published online: 10 Jun 2010.

To cite this article: Victor Nell & D.J.W. Strumpfer (1978) The Power Motive, Power, and Fear of Weakness, Journal of Personality Assessment, 42:1, 56-62, DOI: 10.1207/s15327752jpa4201_8 To link to this article:

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Journal of Personalit-v Assessmenr, 1978, 42, J

The Power Motive, n Power, and Fear of Weakness VlCTOR N E L L and D. .I. W. S T R ~ M P F E R University of Port Elizabeth South Africa

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Summar,: Among 85 male undergraduates, h ~ g hneed for power as measured by the 1968 Winter scoring system is shown to I-elate to high drinking frequency @ < .01). high alcohol consumption ((,< .05). and taking the first drinkat age [email protected]< .05);to the Disinhibition("Sw1nger") factor on Zuckerman's Sensation Seeking Scale @ < .05): to poor academic performance (/, < .05); and to generate a regrewon equation with the California Psychological Inventory that suggests qualities of personal disorderliness and intellectual aggression. These findings. considered in terms of power motive theory, are seen as replicating earlier elidence that h ~ g h n Power is maladaptie. voyeuristic and power avoidant.

The power motive is one of the three principal fantasy-based motive measures (achievement, affiliation and power motives; Atkinson, 1958) developed by McClelland and his co-workers in the 1950s. Though both Veroff (1958) and Winter (1973) formulated their measures of the power motive in terms of social forcefulness and leadership, the action correlates of high need for power (n Power) remained unclear. The numerous studies Winter reviews to support the proposition that "persons with high need for power would more often seek and occupy positions of high social power" (Winter, 1973, p. 38) are counterbalanced by many others (Veroff & Veroff. 197 1 ) indicating that power motivation occurs in status groups that are concerned about their weakness; . correlated with positive social performance and adjustment when the power demands are not publicly salient;...and can lead to avoidance of the power situation, including self-destruction. (p.59). Also see Veroff and Feld (1970. especially p. 283; Veroff & Veroff, 1972). This paper attempts, in the light of current theory, to resolve some of these difficulties by distinguishing between the power motive and n Power, and then by defining some of the anomalies in the n Power scoring systems. It presents new findings on the link between n Power and fear of weakness and suggests that maladaptive need for power is reinforced by inputs from the mass communication media.

Although the terms "power motive" and "need tor power" are used in the literature as interchangeable synonyms. they are not equivalent. Implicit in the most recent study (McClelland, 1975) is the suggestion that the power motive is a universal human attribute expressed in one of four modalities at each of four different levels of maturity. Need for power, on the other hand, as measured by the content analysis of fantasy protocols, is biased towards the self-expressive modalities of assertive power (McClelland, 1975, p. 41). Need for power should therefore be seen as only one expression of the power motive. rather than as co-extensive with it. The tension between "high social power" and "concern with weakness" and indeed between the power motive and n Power--may be traced to anomalies in all three need for power scoring systems (Veroff, 1958; Winter. 1973; Note 1) which, despite claims to the contrary. produce almost identical scores (Nell. 1975). These anomalies relate to four broad areas. Both the Veroff and Winter manuals make it clear the "power" they refer to is phenomenal power in the real world of people and events. Yet the construct validit?. of their measure is not tested against external criterion groups rated as (or seen to be) high on the motive as defined. Moreover. Winter's requirement that a series of arousal procedures be used, "each sampling the broad domain of power in a slightly different way" (1973, p. 39), has not been met: Indeed. the arousal procedures


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used by Veroff and by Winter to develop power-sensitive scoring systems have been widely criticised (Minton, 1967; Uleman, 1972; Veroff & Veroff, 197 1, 1972). Thirdly, the content analysis procedures laid down by the scoring manuals fail to distinguish between hero and victim (Skolnick, 1966b, p. 39 I), and between latent and manifest power (Minton, 1967); and they admit "psychologically irrelevant" material (Murray, 1943, p. 14) for scoring, thus further confounding the complex relations between fantasv ~ r o d u c t sand behavior Skolnick, 1966a). Finallv, - bv- tracing the origins of the scoring manuals t o - ~ u r r a v ' i Explorations & Personality (1938),-from which they derive their nomenclature and working hypotheses, certain contradictions inherent in the n Power measure may be demonstrated. Though Murray assigned discrete status to the needs for achievement and affiliation, power is not separately named and described. Almost the entire content of n Power in the Veroff and the Winter manuals derives from a cluster offive needs set out as two pairs of opposites (Dominance and Deference; Aggression and Abasement) on either side of Autonomy (Murray, 1938, Chap. 3). Some attributes of Murray's n Dominance, which may readily be traced in both the Winter and Veroff scoring systems, are: t o control one's human environment; t o influence or direct others by suggestion, seduction, persuasion or command; and to convince others of the rightness of one's opinion. Futher power imagery catagories derive from Murray's n Aggression, n Sex and n Exhibition. But the traits which are semantically -and behaviorally -opposed to Dominance and Aggression also supply some power imagery criteria: n Deference (to admire and support a superior, to yield eagerly t o influence, to hero-worship, elect to high office) besides forming part of Winter's Category 1 power imagery (strong, forceful actions) also parallels Category 2 (arousing strong emotions); n Abasement (to submit passively, t o admit inferiority, error or defeat) parallels Category 3 power imagery (concern for reputation or position).


The cumulative effect of these anomalies has not been t o vitiate the n Power measure entirely, but t o render it almost exclusively sensitive to the fantasy component of power -that despondent striving, peculiar to the ineffectual, for impact and influence, which nervously shies away from the actual exercise of control or aggression. Recent studies have demonstrated two separate components in the power motive termed either "personalized" and "socialized" power (McClelland, Davis, Kalin, & Wanner, 1972) or "hope of power" and "fear of power" (Winter, 1973). McClelland et al. (1972) havedemonstrated an important link between lowinhibition, personalized power and heavy drinking (see Klebanoff, 1947, for an early indication of the alcohol-power fantasy link). However, even the unfractionated measure of power has been shown (Winter, 1973, p. 81) t o predict the behaviors associated with "hope of power."One of the aims of the present study was to show that this unfractionated measure, despite its overt associations with dominance and influence, is an indicator of behavior that is personally, socially and academically maladaptive, power avoidant and voyeuristic. Method Subjects The subjects were 85 English-speaking male undergraduates (mean age 19.2 years, SD = 1.2), a subgroup of all first-year students participating in a compulsory orientation program conducted by the University of Port Elizabeth in the week before commencement. Femalesand Afrikaans speakers were excluded from t he present study because of the difficulties associated with the interpretation of female fantasy protocols (McClelland, 1966; Veroff, Atkinson, Feld, & Gurin, 1960), and value and attitude differences between English and Afrikaans speakers (e.g. Morse & Orpen, 1975).

Procedure A six-item test battery was administered in the following sequence: biographical questionnaire; picture story test for the power motive; Protestant Ethic Scale (Mirels & Garrett, 1971); Sensation Seek-

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Power Motive, n Pok'er, and Fear yf Weakness

ing Scale (Zuckerman, 1971); Child Report of Parent Behavior Inventory (Schaefer, 1965); and the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) (Gough, 1957).The first five items were administered during a twohour morning session and the CPI on the afternoon of the same day. All subjects completed the tests except for eight incomplete CPI, seven Parent Behavior Inventory and four Sensation Seeking Scale protocols. In 1975, an average academic score was computed for each subject based on final examination results calculated separately for the subjects' first and third years of study (1972 and 1974); the normal study period for a South African bachelor degree is three years. Students who did not write examinations in either 1972 or 1974 were assigned a zero grade for that year. The biographical questionnaire was compiled to elicit information in areas which, according to the literature, were relevant to the need for power - drinking habits, sport and committee activity, and reading habitc The picture story test consisted of seven pictures presented in the followingsequence: 1. Conference group with seven men around table (83); 2. Four soldiers in battle gear; 3. Lawyer's office, two men talking (5); 4. Ship's captain at wheel talking to man In suit; 5. Man and woman in resturant, violin player behind them; 6. Father and children seated at breakfast table (102); 7. Mad scientist examining test tube by the light of a candle. The numbers in brackets refer to the listing of sources in Atkinson (1958, App. 3), while pictures 2,4,5, and 7 are described in Winter (1973, Note I ) . The originals of 2 , 4 , and 5 were unobtainable at the time of testing and a skilled graphic artist was commissioned to draw pictures matching the descriptions in the Winter practice materials. Of these substitutes (available on request), Picture 2 had near zero cue value and was not scored, while pictures 4 and 5 functioned well, eliciting 52.9% and 30.6% power imagery respectively. Mean power imagery for the SIX pictures scored was 42% ( S D = 10.46). The instructions to subjects were adapted from Atkinson (1958, p. 48), and scoring was carried out by the first author, who

met the criteria for reliability in Feld & Smith (1958). Two n Power scores were computed for each subject: imagery only, by counting one for each protocol that was scored for power imagery, regardless of subcategory scoring; and total score, by summing imagery and subcategories on each protocol. The first of these scores (i.e. disregarding subcategories) correlated highly with the total scores and had a slightly higher split-half reliability; it was therefore used in all subsequent computations. Although the experimental design called for administration of the test to subjects whose power motivation had not been experimentally aroused, it isdoubtful whether a non-aroused state exists in relation to thematic apperception because of this method's notorious sensitivity to environmental cues and mood fluctuations. In the present study, subjects'concerns at the time of testing were clearly reflected in protocol content, notably concern with academic success standards, with a n emphasis on social rather than autonomous achievement values (Striimpfer, 1975); and anxiety at being away from home (44% of subjects were living in oncampus hostels or in lodgings). Accordingly, the Mad Scientist (Picture 7) was respectfully described as a professor or a cancer researcher whose work would be of great significance to humanity. Similarly, in protocols to Picture 4 (Ship's Cap tain), the student-passengers frequently sought reassurance from the helmsman. asking him if the boat was off course and if it would survive the coming storm. Others tried to persuade the helmsman to turn back because they were on the wrong boat o r had forgotten their identity documents ashore. The emphasis on good luck and on being in the hands ofunknown authority figures both underscore the significance of Rotter's external locus of control dimension in power-cued protocols (Rotter, 1966).

Results Significant relationships were found between n Power scores and items on the biographical questionnaire. CPI and Sensation Seeking Scale. and with the 1972

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VICTOR NELL and D. J. W. S T R ~ ~ M P F E R average academic score. None were found with the Protestant Ethic Scale, Parent Behavior Inventory or 1974 average academic score. On the biographical questionnaire, n Power means were significantly higher (df= 84 in all instances) for subjects with highdrinkingfrequency (t = 2.849,pc .0 I), high alcohol consumption per session (t = 2.603, p < .05) and for subjects who had taken their first drinkat age 16or less rather than at a later age, or who did not recall their starting age (Ullman, 1952) ( t = 2.234,p< .05). Forbothdrinkingfrequency and quantity the cut-off points used in computation o f t were selected a priori. For frequency, it fell between once a week or more often and once a month or less often; and for quantity consumed per session, the cut-off was between three or more drinks per session and one or less. Contrary to Winter's findings (1973), no significant differences in mean n Power scores were found for subjects whose mothers had more years of education than their fathers; for the number of sports played, frequency of playing, or type of sport (loner, team, or exhibitionist); nor with the number of nonfiction books or of novels that subjects read. Pearson correlations (df= 75 in all instances) between CPIscalesandn Power were significant for Flexibility (r = .30, p < .01), Self-control (r = -.29,p < .01), and Well-Being (r = -.26,p < .05). Good Impression ( r = -. 19) and Communality (r = -.21) correlated at p < .lo. Gough argues that "a yield of low-magnitude relationships is frequently encountered with criteria not bearing a one-to-one relationship to any single scale of the inventory" (1968b, p. 23). To select the optimum subset of CPI scales for identifying subjects high on n Power, a multiplestepwise regression analysis (following Gough, 1968a; 1968b; 1969) was carried out and the following equation, restricted to the best five variables, was computed: n Power = 7.022 + .068 Flexibility - .089 Self-Control+ ,136 Tolerance - .074 intellectual Efficiency - ,105 Communality. The constant of 7.022 is such that thecomputed CPI scale values for an array of subjects will tend to converge on that group's

mean n Power score. Inserting the sample mean values for the given five CPI scales in the above equation yields a value of 2.469, slightly higher than the true n Power mean of 2.455, but within acceptable limits for a five term regression on an 18-item matrix. The equation's direction of weighting favors Tolerance and Flexibility, disfavoring Communality, Self-control and lntellectual Efficiency. Reference to the adjective pools which Gough(1957; 1968b) has assembled for high and low scorers on the CPI scales allows the followingimpressionistic resume of high scorers on the regression equation: adventurous, with broad and varied interests; informal and lacking in self-discipline, impulsive, and disorderly; intellectually able, clear-thinking and insightful, but also aggressive, assertive, shrewd, deceitful, and cynical, overemphasizing personal pleasure and self-gain. These adjectives appear to relate to dimensions of personal disorderliness and of intellectual aggression. The picture that emerges is of an intellectually gifted and emotionally rich person at war with himself, with insight turned to guile and assertiveness to cynical selfishness. The portrayal is supported by drawing a CPI profile of the mean scale scores of the seven subjects in the 90th centile of the power score distribution. The profile peaks on Self Acceptance, Social Presence and Flexibility, and reaches its lowest point on Responsibility; it is depressed across all the measures of socialization, maturity and responsibility (Gough's Class I1 measures). In this context, it should also be noted that the power motive does not relate to the CPI leadership index developed by Gough (1969). On the Sensation Seeking Scale, n Power correlated significantly with the Disinhibition factor, r (79) = .24,p < .05. Zuckerman terms this the"Swinger"factor, expressing the hedonistic"P1ayboy" philosophy of "heavy social drinking, variety in sexual partners, wild parties and gambling" (Zuckerman, 1971, p. 47). Need for power related to averageacademic score at the end of the first year of study, yielding significant negative correlations for all faculties combined, r (8 1)


Power Motive, n Power, a n d Fear qf Weakness

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= -.23. p < .05. and for students of commerce, r (1 9) = -.53, p < .02. Relations

for other faculties (general humanities. law, science, and engineering) were nonsignificant though all negative. None of the relations between n Power and average academic score in the final year of study were significant. Discussion The CPI characterisation of n Power as conflicted and undersocialized, and its relation to poor academic performance, tend to support the view that the power motive should be seen as concern with weakness. Moreover, thefinding by McClelland et al. (1972) that Winter's "stud behaviors" (exploitive sex, prestige possessions, gambling, fast driving and vicarious experience e s p e c i a l l y through reading erotic "girlie" magazines) are identified with low-inhibition power, is supported in the present study both by the link between n Power and drinking frequency, quantity and early starting age; and by the relationship betweenn Power and the Sensation Seeking Scale's Disinhibition factor, whichincorporates most of the stud behaviors. Indeed, these ostensibly assertive and virile activities may be more correctly conceptualized as voyeuristic, that is, low-risk activities with a high stimulus value. The foregoing findings on n Power furnish a striking parallel with the "Don Juan modality" first described by Winter (1973). and later characterized by McClelland in the following terms: "He brags, lies, deceives, tricks, disguises himself, seduces women and murders rivalsW(1975,p. 20). The present findings are also consistent with McClelland's recent conclusion (1975, p. 37) that among college freshmen, the modal expression of power is at the early (Stage 11) maturity level at which the source of power is found in the selfand the individual satisfies his need to feel stronger through prestige possessions or by better control over his body; at this stage, men reject institutional responsibility, control anger and spend more time with the opposite sex at parties. Conclusions Despite the shortcomings of the fantasy-

based method, arbitrary scoring and inadequate validation, the Veroff-Winter measure of n Power consistently predicts a coherent behavior-cluster even in the present culturally distinct sample of South African undergraduates. Among these behaviors are violence, assertiveness and deceit, which aregoal-effective in fantasy, but maladaptive in real life. producing the extensively documented approach-avoidance conflict characteristic of the power motivated (McClelland et al., 1972; Skolnick, 1966a; Veroff & Feld, 1970; Veroff & Veroff, 1972; Winter, 1972). Its barroom symbol is the clenched fist of anger raised against an adversary who has already walked out of the door. It might prove fruitful to speculate that the cultural antecedents of this widespread and behaviorally coherent pattern are to be sought in the ubiquitous inputs of the mass communication media. Clearly. the values central to the need for power are mediated by the news and entertainment media: that violence is masculine and problem-solving, that casual sex is more fun than commitment, that impact and acclaim are more valuable than constancy and responsibility, that dull reality falls short of the gee-whiz newsmaker's world of ephemera (Boorstin, 1964). Because the power scoring manual is a way of life for journalists (they offer unsolicited help and advice, persuade and regulate others, arouse strong emotions, and are highly concerned with reputation and position) it may be hypothesized that journalists' power fantasies (cf. Pool & Shulman, 1959; Talese, 1970), projected through the mass media, shape the fantasy life of susceptible others towards a n internalization of power motive valuesand action patterns through a process that might be termed media motivation. An important effect of the mass media may thus lie in the formation of authoritative (though maladaptive) value systems. At thesame time, the media-created folklore of power supports the prestige-possessions industries (i.e. those that make cuff links or motor cars whose form and price are unrelated to their function, but say of their owner: "See who I am: I amsomebody"); and supports the alcohol-and-girlie --

VICTOR NELL and D. J. W. STRUMPFER branch of the entertainment industry, which in its bars, brothels, cabarets, and casinos links the fantasy-rich worlds of alcohol, sex, and gambling. Reference Note 1 . Winter, D. G. A revised scoring .sj~stemjorrhe need,forpowr. Unpublished manuscript, Wesleyan University. 1968.

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References Atkinson, J . W. (Ed.) Motives infant as!^, action and societ.s: A method ofassessment and stud^.. Princeton, N. J.: Van Nostrand. 1958. Boorstin. D. J . The image: A guide t o pseudoe1.ent.s in America. New York: Harper & Row. 1964. Feld, S., & Smith. C. P. In J . W . Atkinson (Ed.), Motives rn,/',action and socie/j,. Princeton, N. J . : Van Nostrand, 1958. Gough, H. G. hfanualfor the Cal~fornioP.s~,chological Inventorj,. Palo Alto. California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1957. Gough, H. G. College attendance among high-aptitude students as predicted from the California Psychological Inventory. Journal qf Counselling P s j ~ ~ h o l o g1968, j ~ . 15, 269-278. (a) Gough. H. G. Aninterpreter'ssyllabusfor the California Psychological Inventory. In P. Reynolds (Ed.), Advances in p s ~ ~ h o l o g r c aassessment. l Val. 1. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books. 1968. (b) Gough. H. G. A leadership index on the California Psychological Inventory. Journal qfCon.su11ing,1969, 16, 283-289. Halt, R. R . The nature ofTATstories as cognitive products: A psychoanalytic approach. In J. Kagan & G . Lesser (Eds.), Contemporar, issues in thematic apperceprive methods. Springfield. Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 196 1 . Klebanoff, S . G. Personality factors in symptomatic chronic alcoholism as indicated by the Thematic ApperceptionTest. Journal(~fC

The power motive, n power, and fear of weakness.

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