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Crisis management: top executives have trouble making a decision when faced with ambivalence

Although powerful people often tend to decide and act quickly, they become more indecisive than others when the decisions are toughest to make, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that when people who feel powerful also feel ambivalent about a decision - torn between two equally good or bad choices - they actually have a harder time taking action than people who feel less powerful.

That's different than when powerful people are confronted by a simpler decision in which most evidence indicates a clear choice. In those cases, they are more decisive and act more quickly than others.

"We found that ambivalence made everyone slower in making a decision, but it particularly affected people who felt powerful. They took the longest to act," said Geoff Durso, lead author of the study and doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University.

The study was published online in the journal Psychological Science.

Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State, said other research he and his colleagues have done suggests that feeling powerful gives people more confidence in their own thoughts.
That's fine when you have a clear idea about the decision you want to make. But if you feel powerful and also ambivalent about a decision you face, that can make you feel even more conflicted than others would be, he said.

"If you think both your positive thoughts and your negative thoughts are right, you're going to become frozen and take longer to make a decision," Petty said.

Durso and Petty believe this interaction between power and ambivalence can affect leaders in any role, including those in business and government.

The study was also co-authored by Pablo Briñol of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain. The National Science Foundation provided support for the research.


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