New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

On Power and Decision-Making: Research by NYU Professors Finds That People in Positions of Power Interpreted 9/11 Attacks Differently Than Ordinary Citizens

August 10, 2009
n-523, 2008-2009

A newly completed New York University study of public reaction to the 9/11 attacks concludes that people in positions of power, from government officials to managers working on Wall Street to military personnel, tended to interpret the events in more abstract terms and with more certainty and positivity than ordinary individuals.

The study, “Power Differences in the Construal of a Crisis,” slated for publication in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is a rare, comprehensive test of the relationship between power and perception in a real-world context, illuminating how decision makers’ understanding of the attacks were affected by power and such factors as geographic proximity. Its authors include Joe C. Magee, assistant professor of management, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University; Francis J. Milliken, professor and Peter Drucker faculty fellow, the NYU Stern School of Business; and Adam R. Lurie, a student at New York University.

The analysis of hundreds of public comments published or aired in the media from September 11 to 20, 2001, supports other investigators’ prior findings that abstract interpretations are a factor responsible for the tendency to be overconfident in estimating how long it will take to complete one’s objectives. The researchers also note that abstract construal might have contributed to national leaders underestimating the difficulties they would face in accomplishing their objectives stemming from September 11, 2001.

“Given that America’s strategic decision makers also had power domestically, geopolitically, and militarily, and [that] power would [make them more abstract in their thinking], it seems likely that they would have overestimated their chances of achieving their goals,” they write. “As it turns out, in the aftermath of 9/11, the government began an escalation of military aggression that it is still seeking to resolve at the time of this writing.”

“Our study opens up the question of whether or not this was due in part to the construal processes of government and military officials, influenced by the hypothetical nature of the situations they were considering and the power they held,” they add.

Professor Magee will present this research at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Chicago on Monday, August 10th. To see the full paper, contact Robert Polner, 212.998.2337/646.522.3046 or robert.polner@nyu.edu.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Research, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Type: Press Release

Press Contact: Robert Polner | (212) 998-2337


Search News



NYU In the News

CUSP Unveils its “Urban Observatory”

Crain’s New York Business profiled CUSP’s “Urban Observatory” that is continuously photographing lower Manhattan to gather scientific data.

Post-Sandy Upgrades at the Langone Medical Center

NY1 reported on the major post-Sandy upgrades and renovations made at the Medical Center to protect the hospital from future catastrophic storms.

Steinhardt Research Helps Solve Tough Speech Problems.

The Wall Street Journal reported on research at Steinhardt’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, including an interview with Assistant Professor Tara McAllister Byun, that uses ultrasound to help solve tough speech problems.

Times Column Lauds Professor Stevenson’s New Memoir

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about “Just Mercy,” a new memoir by Law Professor Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, whom he noted has been called America’s Nelson Mandela.

Entrepreneurship Lab Opens at NYU

Crain’s New York Business covered the opening of the Mark and Debra Leslie Entrepreneurial eLab, which will be the headquarters for NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute and all of the University’s programs aimed at promoting innovation and startups.

NYU Footer