The power motive as a predictor of receptiveness to nonverbal behavior in sport

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The study tested the hypothesis that the implicit power motive is positively associated with receptiveness to nonverbal cues related to submissiveness in sports. Participants’ (N = 156) implicit and explicit power motives were measured. Receptiveness to nonverbal dominance and submissiveness cues was measured using videos from sports competitions depicting elite athletes who are supposed to send nonverbal signals dependent on the current score. Participants’ task was estimating if athletes were currently trailing or leading. Participants’ estimates were compared to the actual score in the video scenes. Results suggest that participants scoring high in the implicit power motive were more receptive towards submissive cues, but not more receptive towards dominant cues. This finding suggests that the implicit power motive is associated with a greater receptiveness for cues related to submissiveness.

“Power permeates all relationships, in the family, among friends, and in economic exchanges” (Keltner 2016, p. 29). Hence, people seek power and power has been described as a central adaptive motivational drive in humans (McClelland 1975), similar to the cravings for sweet food or even sex. Although power was typically defined in forceful Machiavellian terms, power is about making a difference in the world (McClelland 1987). Importantly, making a difference in the world means affecting other people and altering the states of others (e.g., emotionally, cognitively, or physically). Power can either be perceived as a quality possessed by a person, by an interaction process through which power is manifested (e.g., being ahead in a sport competition), or the outcome of such an interaction (e.g., winning the competition) (Berger 1994; Ellyson and Dovidio 1985). One way by which power is exerted is dominance, which can be described as one of the behavioral aspects of power (Burgoon et al. 1998). Just as with any adaptive motivational drive, individuals differ in how strongly they experience this motivational drive and how strongly it influences observable dominant behavior. Pertinent to the present research, one way that people attempt to satisfy their need for power is by being receptive to nonverbal signals amongst other people associated with dominance/submissiveness (Donhauser et al. 2015; Schultheiss and Hale 2007). Recently sports competitions have been shown to be an “arena” in which people are constantly displaying nonverbal cues related to dominance and submissiveness (Furley 2019; Furley et al. 2016; Furley and Schweizer 2014a; 2016; Matsumoto and Hwang 2012; Tracy and Matsumoto 2008). Therefore, the present research addressed the question of whether individual differences in people’s need for power predict how receptive they are towards athletes’ nonverbal behavior associated with dominance and submissiveness.

The power motive can be broadly defined as a concern of having an impact (cognitively, emotionally, or physically) on others (Winter 1973). More specifically, the need for power has been described as a disposition for feeling affective pleasure from having an impact on others or the world at large, and for feeling aversion when other people influence oneself (Schultheiss 2008). Two fundamentally different motivational systems can be distinguished from one another (McClelland et al. 1989): An explicit motivational system representing self-attributed (or explicit) motives or goals that people ascribe to themselves; and an implicit motivational system representing motives outside of conscious awareness. This distinction stems from the idea that people sometimes lack introspective insight into their fundamental motivational needs. As a consequence, two different methods for assessing motives have been developed: self-report motive questionnaires and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT; Morgan and Murray 1935) that was later refined to Picture-Story Exercises (PSE; Schultheiss and Pang 2007). Motive questionnaires are comprised of a series of statements related to a person’s motivation in particular contexts. In the TAT or PSE participants are asked to tell a story about certain pictures and their responses to these pictures are subsequently coded with an experimentally derived coding system. Decades of research using dichotomous assessments (i.e., explicit questionnaires and implicit measures) of human motives has led to the conclusion that scores on explicit and implicit measures of human motives tend to be uncorrelated (e.g., Köllner and Schultheiss 2014; Pang and Schultheiss 2005; Spangler 1992; Schultheiss et al. 2009). This lack of variance overlap has been interpreted as explicit and implicit measures assessing different kinds of motive constructs (but see Thrash et al. 2012). More specifically, as people verbally report their explicit motives these are assumed to give rise to controlled forms of behavior, whereas implicit motive measures are assumed to assess how people are likely to orient, select, and energize more autonomous forms of behavior (Schultheiss and Brunstein 2010; McClelland 1987).

Although a growing body of research has used implicit and explicit motive measures (Schultheiss and Brunstein 2010; McClelland et al. 1989, for an overview), comparatively little is known about the role of implicit and explicit motives on basic cognitive processes. Of central importance to the present research, motives are assumed to fulfill an attentional orienting function to motivationally relevant cues (e.g., Schultheiss 2008). That is, motives are assumed to affect behavior by orienting attention towards salient cues in the environment that are associated with the satisfaction or thwarting of activated motives (McClelland et al. 1989). The modulation of attentional orienting has been demonstrated for many other motivational constructs, for example by showing an attentional bias of anxious individuals towards threat-related stimuli (e.g., Mogg and Bradley 1999). Regarding the implicit power motive (nPower), initial research has shown that this motive has the potential to affect behavior (Stoeckart et al. 2017), for example, by affecting memory processes (Wang et al. 2017), and, of particular importance to the present research, by orienting attention to cues in the environment that facilitate exercising influence on other people or impending influence of others on oneself (Donhauser et al. 2015; Schultheiss and Hale 2007; Schultheiss et al. 2008). More specifically, this research has provided converging evidence that individual differences in observer’s implicit power motive predicted their receptiveness towards nonverbal cues related to dominance and submission. Schultheiss and Hale (2007) found evidence that individuals high in nPower oriented their attention towards submissive faces (i.e., showing surprise) and away from dominant faces (i.e., showing anger). Presumably, this pattern emerges because the nonverbal expressions of dominance and submission are of fundamental importance in satisfying one’s dispositional motive of having an impact on others and avoiding to be controlled by others (Schultheiss 2008). Arguably, being able to easily distinguish between dominant and submissive nonverbal cues would help satisfy this implicit motive or avoid thwarting this motive. While this theorizing has been supported by first studies using stimulus material of staged expressions of basic facial emotions like joy, anger, or surprise that are linked to dominance and submission (Donhauser et al. 2015; Schultheiss and Hale 2007; Schultheiss et al. 2008), it is not clear if these first empirical studies transfer to settings in which individuals show subtle forms of naturally occurring nonverbal behaviors as a consequence of feeling more dominant or more submissive. Moreover, in such naturally occurring nonverbal behavior (e.g., on a sports court) facial expressions are often less obvious and more difficult to detect than exaggerated close-up images of facial expressions used in previous studies (e.g., Matsumoto and Ekman 1988).

For the explicit power motive research findings regarding attentional orienting are less elaborated. Research on sense of power—that is the perception of one’s ability to influence others (Anderson et al. 2012)—for example, proposed that individuals high in sense of power show more optimism for future events in and outside of their control (Anderson and Galinsky 2006) and tend to rather speak up in a work environment compared to individuals low in sense of power (Morrison et al. 2015). Further, powerful individuals tend to focus their attention more strongly on power cues compared to individuals low in power (e.g., Mason et al. 2010). Taken together, it could be argued that individuals high in self-attributes of power (explicit power motive) may focus their attention to power cues associated with success, which are in sync with their self-attributes, rather than to power cues associated with failure.

There have been increasing calls for replications of psychological findings (Camerer et al. 2018; Open Science Collaboration 2015) due to the fact that many published findings do not replicate. Of further relevance, Fiedler (2011) pointed out the necessity of replicating psychological findings with different stimulus material to ensure that psychological theorizing does not only apply to a highly specific set of selected stimuli (e.g., an association of the implicit power motive to Matsumoto and Ekman’s (1988) facial database, but no association for naturally occurring subtle everyday expressions of dominance/submissiveness). Hence, the present research followed these calls by addressing the question of whether individual differences in people’s explicit and implicit need for power predict how receptive observers are towards athletes’ nonverbal behavior associated with dominance and submissiveness. In addition, the present research attempted to expand existing knowledge by investigating the attentional orienting hypothesis for both explicit and implicit power motives and by individually assessing the relationship of the explicit and implicit measures to receptiveness measures towards submissiveness and dominance. Finally, the present research bridges the fields of nonverbal behavior and motives. Previous research has shown that neither gender nor domain-specific sports knowledge influenced the receptiveness of participants in judging nonverbal behavior in sports (Furley and Schweizer 2014b). According to Cronbach (1957), a comprehensive account of human behavior can only be achieved through the synergy of experimental and differential approaches to psychology. Hence, the present research seeks to investigate how individual differences in a person’s need for power are associated with the receptiveness towards dominance and submission in sports contests.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)917-928
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2019

ID: 5196192

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