intellectual vanities… about close to everything

The Fish Starts Stinking From The Head

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Your office? Undeserving bosses prefer incompetent employees. A study carried out by the University of Granada reveals that people who consider they do not deserve their job try to surround themselves with less competent employees, maybe to justify their privileged position.

This research, managed by Rosa Rodríguez Bailón and Miguel Moya Morales, both professors of Social Psychology and Methodology of Behaviour Sciences Department and also by Vincent Yzerbyt (University of Lovaina, in Belgium), has shown that qualified persons prefer to work with competent and sociable partners in jobs that imply responsibility. However, persons who think they are unable to hold a specific job try to work with less competent and sociable partners.

The researchers point out that ‘power could be defined as the influence that a person has over other people and over themselves’. They also warn that people who have power do not always exercise it properly. This research included 73 volunteer students from the Faculty of Psychology, the Faculty of Sciences of Education and the University School of Social Work, all three at the University of Granada. The great majority of these students (85.7 percent) were women between 18 and 25 years old.

Work Method

Those who were involved in this study had the opportunity to exercise power. They were notified that they would be representatives at a conference of students, and that they could choose a partner to attend the event and work under their direct supervision. The students were divided arbitrarily, half of them were told they deserved the granted power (legitimate) while the others were told they did not (illegitimate). All of them could choose between a very competent and sociable subordinate and a person with noticeably less competence and sociability.

Regardless of who they chose (‘legitimate’ or ‘illegitimate’ boss), the students clearly distinguished the privileged position of one candidate from the other.

The illegitimate bosses preferred the less competent and sociable candidates in a higher proportion than did the legitimate bosses. In addition to this they requested more information about the candidate positively described than about the candidate described more negatively.

This investigation by the University of Granada is evidence that “illegitimate bosses” have similar opinions about their subordinates’ qualities and aptitudes, in the same manner that the students that took part in this study formed their own during the experience. However, the authors explain that ‘their tendency to work among less competent candidates could be based on the fact that they try to prevent the subordinates from becoming competition for them’.

The professors who directed this investigation underline that the results support other studies which show that the people who need to justify their position tend to work among less qualified persons.

Psicothema. 2006 May;18(2):194-9.

When power is undeserved: its effects on perception and social judgements [Article in Spanish]

Rodríguez-Bailón R, Moya M, Yzerbyt V.

Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Granada, Spain.

This paper explores the impact of the legitimacy of power position on powerholders’ impressions, expectancies’ confirmation processes, and decisions about subordinates in the context of a personnel selection process. Participants were assigned to a power position (they were told they will be representatives in a students conference and they will be able to select a mate to go also to the conference and to work under their supervision) on the basis of positive feedback regarding their supervisory skills (legitimate) or negative feedback regarding their supervisory skills (illegitimate). Two applicants were proposed as subordinates: one high in sociability and competence and the other low in both dimensions. Although participants in the two conditions noticed the superiority of one candidate over the other, illegitimate powerholders selected the least sociable and competent subordinate more often than legitimate powerholders. Illegitimate participants also request more information about the best than about the worse candidate. We interpret our findings in light of the larger literature suggesting an impact of illegitimacy on people’s attempts to rationalize and justify their position as well as to perpetuate the existing social arrangement.


Written by huehueteotl

November 1, 2007 at 9:31 am

2 Responses

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  1. I was wondering what it was meant by the “fish starts stinking from the head” and the article below is full of a meaning for these words…….essentialy that the,central occupation of the mind, influences peripheral issues and awaiting circumstances.

    felix baker

    February 9, 2012 at 8:35 am

    • This old eastern proverb can justifiably be applied to many societal, political and certain religious issues where power is corrupt; it is exploited and wangled from the very top– no need for examples–any honest, active mind does not need proofs. Unfortunately all stinking heads are extremely malignant and shroud the entire bodies.

      Agop J Hacikyan

      August 7, 2013 at 11:47 pm

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