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Power, cheating and sex – why we love powerful people even when they are mean

Power, cheating and sex – why we love powerful people even when they are mean
Power, cheating and sex – why we love powerful people even when they are mean
Power, cheating and sex – why we love powerful people even when they are mean

The following is part VI – the continuation of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and    Professor Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, exploring the link between cheating and power, and, why we love mean people such as Simon Cowell. Click here to read Part V of this interview: 

Patrick: And this seems to be one of the underlying themes, not just in terms of evil and violence but even in terms of another area which I tend to specialize in which is relationships – why do so many men in power and influence, positions of power, influence and authority, cheat on their wife or their partner? Is it really about sex? It’s very —

Professor Zimbardo: No, it’s not about sex.

Patrick: — rarely about sex.

Professor Zimbardo: No, it’s hardly ever about sex. It’s not sex.

Patrick: It’s about power, correct?

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. If it’s about sex, you go to an erotic massage place or you go to a – there’s certainly enough places in our society. The idea of cheating on your wife, developing a whole other relationship with another woman is about the power to do it. You know, “I can do it. That’s why I will do it.” Even in the relationships, see, once you are heavily focused on power, you have to keep demonstrating to yourself that you have the power.

So you have the power to say “shut up” to your wife, “Be quiet. I don’t want your friends coming here. I don’t want your family.” So long before the guy starts cheating, he’s demonstrating that he has the power to control this woman, make her do whatever he wants. At that point, he’s not the guy she married, and she’s not the woman that he fell blindly in love with. She is just like a subject in his experiment. He’s going to see how much he can get her to do, you know, his bidding. At that —

Patrick: So you’re saying that cheating is about power —

Professor Zimbardo: It’s heavily about —

Patrick: — or just in this situation where the man already has a position of power and authority?

Professor Zimbardo: If you remember, Henry Kissinger who I always thought of as a relatively ugly man, when he was Secretary of State and there were all these pictures of these really attractive women, and somebody said, “Henry, how come?” And he said, “It’s only about the aphrodisiac of power.” That’s the sentence; power itself is intoxicating. People want to be close – you know the groupies for rock stars.

Patrick: Yeah.

Professor Zimbardo: You want to be close to celebrities. You want to be close to power. I mean —

Patrick: Well, I’m actually doing some interviews on that for the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” which is being released on DVD, and they’ve approached me to discuss why women are attracted to the bad boy image and why they’re attracted to rock stars. And this is where I’m saying they’re attracted to the alpha male. It’s the, as you put it, the intoxication of power, the aphrodisiac of power.

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. It’s being close to somebody who has this power to do whatever he wants. So for some it’s just the money, you know. The evolutionary psychologist would say, “Well it’s women want to be close to the alpha male because he’s going to be dominant.” It’s not at the level, you know, “I want to have my babies with him.” “I just want to be seen with him. I just want to be close to him. I just want to feel that intoxication of power.” You know, on American Idol why do people like – I forget his – the British guy who puts everybody down? And amazing, it’s like, you’re supposed to be polite, and so he – by violating that expectation; he says, “No, you’re terrible,” or the worse words I ever heard, “Why are you alive?” and for some people they resonate to that.

Patrick: Donald Trump. [Simon Cowell is the judge on American Idol; Donald Trump is judge on Apprentice]

Professor Zimbardo: Donald Trump [Simon Cowell is the judge on American Idol];. This is an ugly man. This is an ugly man in spirit.

Patrick: I hope he doesn’t hear you because he’s going to come after you, but that’s okay, keep going.

Professor Zimbardo: I’m saying, but on his program —

Patrick: You’re right.

Professor Zimbardo: — on his program, why do people watch this? His whole thing is demeaning other people. And so essentially it’s maybe – what are all the times we individually have been slighted, that we would have wanted to say, “Up yours,” and we don’t; we suck it up. Here’s a guy who says, “Up yours.” He could say it to anybody because he’s so rich and powerful. So again, I’m saying here are people who at some level we don’t respect; we don’t like personally, but we admire and get attached to. It’s the display of power.

Patrick: All right. So then the next key question is:  What is it about the human psyche that attracts us to power? Is it because we feel secure and safe —

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah.

Patrick: — being around the power?

Professor Zimbardo: Well, yeah. We’d all like power to achieve our ambitions, power to get what we want in life, not necessarily in evil ways. But very few of us have the power we want. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough control over things in our life. You know, life is variable and fickle, and you’d like to be able to say, “I want this,” and get it, you know, rather than have to deal with that in fantasy.


You look at some people and they look like they get whatever they want. For men, they get the beautiful women; they get the beautiful cars; they get the great job; they don’t have to work very hard. And you know, on the other hand, we don’t say, “Well, but aren’t they really superficial? What do they stand for? What are their values?”

Patrick: Right. You’re raising three points here because one is the fantasy. I don’t have the power, but I can have the fantasy of the power by living vicariously through someone else.

Professor Zimbardo: Right, right.

Patrick: The second aspect is, obviously, the association of power. And I guess the third is the feeling of security and stability, being around someone who has power or —

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah.

Patrick: — the compensation of not having power by being around someone who does have the power.

Click here for Part VI  – the continuation of this interview – Holocaust – Jews informing – “identification with the aggressor” & a love for power:

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