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Influence Over Observers of Structural Power: An Experimental Investigation

Lisa Troyer
Michael J. Lovaglia
The Sociological Quarterly

Research in network exchange theory and status characteristics theory that distinguishes power from influence has proven productive, but leaves open the question of whether a causal relationship exists between these two central, sociological concepts. Past research has found that structural power in exchange increases expectations for competent performance of the power user on a subsequent cooperative task. However, once the power advantage has been removed, previous research has failed to find increased influence of power users, perhaps because those subjected to power use react negatively to perceptions of the high-power actor as selfish or greedy. In society, the results of power used on relatively few people can be observed by many who may not react negatively to the power use because they are not directly exploited. Thus we predicted that observers of power processes would form high expectations for the competence of, and be influenced by, power users. An experimental study supported the predictions: A partner who had been in a high-power position had more influence over observers than did a partner who had been in a low-power position. An interaction was found such that the high-power partner had more influence over observers of power in strong-power networks, but not in weak-power networks