With this, my first post on Forbes.com, I am pleased to become part of an exemplary team that includes former colleagues from True/Slant, and new colleagues who I am fortunate to work alongside. Thanks for having me.
I'd like to begin with an observation, one with which I am certain many will agree: rude people are not fun to be around. Seems self evident enough, yes? Being rude is a categorically negative behavior by most standards, and to suggest otherwise–that is, to mount a defense of rudeness–would be a really strange thing to do.
As it turns out, psychology research is often at its best when it endorses positions that at first glance seem awfully strange. The sandbox I like playing in the most is exactly where these odd and sometimes aberrant findings surface. Cognitive science, including the many shades of psychology and neuroscience, does a fantastic job of ripping at the cloth of conventional assumptions and making us rethink behaviors we'd otherwise not give a second thought.
And so it is with rudeness, because while most of us deplore it, new research suggests that we also see it as a sign of power. A study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science indicates that the ruder someone acts, the more convinced observers become that he or she is powerful, and therefore does not have to respect the same rules the rest of us bow to.
In one of the experiments, study participants read about a visitor to an office who marched in and poured himself a cup of "employee only" coffee without asking. In another case they read about a bookkeeper that flagrantly bent accounting rules. Participants rated the rule breakers as more in control and powerful compared to people who didn't steal the coffee or break accounting rules.
In another experiment participants watched a video of a man at a sidewalk café put his feet on another chair, tap cigarette ashes on the ground and rudely order a meal. Participants rated the man as more likely to "get to make decisions" and able to "get people to listen to what he says" than participants who saw a video of the same man behaving politely.
What this study appears to indicate is that violating norms is viewed by others as a sign of power, even if the observers would otherwise judge those violations as rude or flatly wrong. Considering many of the public personalities we venerate, these findings make a lot of sense, though I would like to see a follow on study that examines observer perceptions when the rude rule breakers are caught. Perhaps it's less the rudeness and corruption we admire, and more the ability to get away with it that intrigues us. Maybe we're just a little smitten with the charisma of villainy.
Thanks to David DiSalvo / Blogs Forbes