Science Reveals Why Most Powerful People All Have the Same Hero

In his 2014 Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew McConaughey said someone once asked him, “Who’s your hero?” to which he replied, “You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.”

Apparently, McConaughey “derives inspiration from his future self,” writes the University of Amsterdam’s Gerben A. Van Kleef in a paper published this week in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

In a series of studies, Van Kleef and a team of international researchers set out to find whether powerful people are more likely to derive inspiration from themselves than others.

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In one of their studies, the researchers had 82 participants take a questionnaire that assessed their feelings of power. Afterward, the participants were asked to write about an event that greatly inspired them.

After reading their stories, the research team’s hypothesis was confirmed: the more powerful the participant felt, the more likely they were to write about an inspirational event that featured themselves. (click to enlarge)

In another study, the researchers paired up 140 participants who had taken the power questionnaire in same-sex pairs. The participants were prompted to think of a recent event that had inspired them greatly and to then take turns telling each other about the event and how it made them feel.

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After analyzing the feelings that the participants reported, as well as their body language, the researchers found that the more powerful participants reported being more inspired by their own stories, and that they showed greater visible inspiration while telling their stories.

In conclusion, Van Kleef writes:

“Four studies demonstrate that (1) higher power people are more inspired by their own experiences than are lower power people and (2) higher power people are more inspired by their own experiences than by those of others.

“… The powerful prefer to entertain their own rather than other people’s experiences and ideas, because they are more inspired by their own internal states than by those of others.”

The team’s findings shows that powerful people are more likely to find inspiration internally than externally. The implication could be that people who are more likely to find inspiration within themselves are also more likely to feel and actually be more powerful.

As Van Kleef puts it:

“However, as exemplified by Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar speech, inspiration is always within reach for the powerful—entertaining their own uplifting experiences is enough to spark the flame.”

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