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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Power and optimism : interpreting ambiguous information

  • Author(s): Cobb, Lindsey Erin
  • et al.

Interpreting ambiguous statements is a common and inescapable aspect of everyday life. Previous research suggests that elevated power leads to the optimistic interpretation of ambiguous information while diminished power leads to the pessimistic interpretation of ambiguous information. However, empirical evidence does not speak to situations that are (1) absent of rewards or punishments and (2) operate at a high cognitive level. The current investigation attempts to address this empirical gap by directly measuring the effect power has on the interpretation of ambiguous conversations. Initially, a Pretest was conducted in order to ensure a selection of short conversations was both neutral and ambiguous. These conversations were later used in Experiments 1 and 2. In Experiment 1, power-primed participants were instructed to rate the valence of the most ambiguous conversations from the Pretest. In Experiment 2, power-primed participants appended the ambiguous conversations with their own words while independent judges rated the conversations for valence. Power did not have an effect on the valences of the conversations in either experiment. The paper concludes with a discussion of the potential limitations of the experiments as well as recommendations for future research

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