When studying to become an industrial or organizational psychologist or in similar fields of expertise, a student may wonder, “What is power distance?” This is a construct that refers to social relationships and power. Understanding what this means could help a person in their studies or in their job as a psychologist in the corporate setting.

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Definition of Power Distance

Power distance refers to the strength of a society’s social hierarchy. It measures the extent to which those people who are at the lower end of the hierarchy accept the fact that social stance or power is not distributed equally in the society. Both psychologists and sociologists use this measure. Researchers have found that people at the bottom of a social hierarchy tend to prefer a system that would distribute power equally, while people who are at the top of the hierarchy like things exactly how they are. The people at the top do not want to lose any of the power that they have accumulated.

How the Power Distance Measure Is Used

The power distance statistic is used to find out how much people at every level of a social hierarchy accept their position in it and the setup of the hierarchy how it is right now. It is a judgment of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the hierarchy based on the subject’s place within it. Power distance is a subjective measure, and there is no way to examine it objectively. Power distance was constructed by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist. It is one of six measures of culture and how individuals fit into and feel about the society in which they live or participate.

Applications of Power Distance

According to Clearly Cultural, the applications of power distance include evaluating hierarchies over time and evaluating how societies change over time. Within those applications, scientists can also discover how the individuals in those hierarchies or societies feel about the changes as those changes take place. The power distance affects what is normal or perceived as normal in a society or culture. Researchers use it to study rates of acceptance of cultural norms or expectations and to determine what the consequences are when a culture or hierarchy changes.

Examples of Power Distance

There are many ways to use power distance in social research and industrial and organizational psychology. One example of power distance in social research is comparing income inequality. In some places, the power distance of income inequality is low. This means that there is a small spread between the richest and the poorest of people in society. Austria is an example of a low power distance country on this measure. Saudi Arabia is a high power distance country. In psychology, power distance can be used to measure workplaces. A CEO who makes 500 times more per hour than the average employee would result in a high power distance for that workplace.

Knowing different psychology concepts such as power distance could help a psychologist or psychology student understand interpersonal relationships and power dynamics better. Knowledge of this concept could also facilitate handling problems in a corporation’s workforce. Knowing the answer to the question, “What is power distance?” is a good step forward in the study or practice of organizational and industrial psychology.