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A Relational Account of Powerlessness: The Role of the Attachment System in Inaction
Keywords: powerless; inaction; attachment theory
Abstract: Although the literature has found widespread evidence for the effect of power on action, we lack a systematic understanding of why low powered individuals are less prone to action. Because power exists within social relationships, our research elucidates a relational underpinning of the link between powerlessness and inaction through the framework of attachment theory. We predicted that the experience of low power will trigger the attachment system, specifically anxious attachment, and that this increase in attachment anxiety would inhibit action. Using a nationally representative dataset and several experiments, we show that low power leads to inaction through attachment anxiety. We further provide interventions grounded in attachment theory which weaken the powerlessness-inaction link by providing attachment security from different sources, including one’s family and manager.