In the study, people read about an office visitor who took a cup of employee coffee without asking or a bookkeeper that broke accounting rules, as opposed to counterparts who behaved more politely or followed proper practices. The rule breakers were rated as more in control and more powerful than those who followed typical social convention.
Researchers speculate this effect may due to the limited restrictions powerful people have. In general, the powerful do in fact have fewer rules to follow and have more money, knowledge and support. Meanwhile, people who are not powerful have more rules to follow.
So, the researchers say, it makes sense when we see a person not following the rules, we assume it may be because they don’t have to have to worry about rules at all.
Acting rudely also makes a person seem more powerful. Study participants viewed a video of a man eating at a sidewalk café who put his feet on another chair, dropped cigarette ashes on the ground, and ordered his meal brusquely. The participants thought the man was more likely to “get to make decisions” and able to “get people to listen to what he says” than other participants who saw a video of the same man behaving politely.
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.