Social Justice Research

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 377–407 | Cite as

Power Dynamics in an Experimental Game

  • Felicia Pratto
  • Adam R. Pearson
  • I-Ching Lee
  • Tamar Saguy


We introduce a new experimental method for studying power. Drawing from multiple theoretical perspectives, we conceptualize power as relational and structural, as well as comprised of different forms through which basic human needs can be met. Thus, the method we introduce examines how, when faced with a particular need, people use multiple forms of power concurrently and within a “field of influence,” namely, the other players in a game. This enabled us to examine how one form of power is transformed into another and how power is transferred from one player to another through interaction, as well as to measure power as behavior, as the exercise of choice, as potential, and as outcomes. Two experiments using egalitarian start conditions and a survivable ecology demonstrated that participants used power to gain more power, creating inequality. Being the target of force made some players unable to “survive” in the local ecology. Theoretical and methodological issues in the study of power are discussed and the application of our game method to the study of power in other fields is considered.


 Power Group dynamics Inequality Experimental games 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felicia Pratto
    • 1
  • Adam R. Pearson
    • 2
  • I-Ching Lee
    • 3
  • Tamar Saguy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyNational Cheng-Chi UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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