Power Begets Power—Even If You’re Only Acting

Share Button

Making yourself feel powerful could help you ace a job interview or gain admission to graduate school, writes Cindi May on the website of Scientific American:

“It is already well established that people who feel empowered pay more attention to rewarding information, express themselves more freely when interacting with others, and experience more positive emotion. They also tend to be more persuasive, less susceptible to the influence of others, and more confident. Power breeds optimism, higher self-esteem, and action in pursuit of goals.

By contrast, those lacking in perceived power experience a reduced sense of control and diminished access to resources or rewards, which in turn may lead to pessimism, depression, a withdrawal from activity, and poor health.

Joris Lammers, a social psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and his colleagues recently explored whether a sense of power, even if temporary, could improve success in the job interview process. In a series of studies, Lammers manipulated perceived power by asking participants to write about a prior personal experience in which they either had power (high power prime) or lacked power (low power prime).

In one study, participants were primed for high or low power and then read a job ad for a sales analyst position. They were asked to assume that they possessed the necessary training and experience for the position, and to write an application letter. In a second study, participants were primed for high or low power, and then engaged in a 15 minute face-to-face mock interview for entrance into business school. This study also included a baseline group that received no prime manipulation before the interview.

In both studies, the candidates were evaluated by individuals who did not know about the power manipulation. In the first experiment, the raters had no interaction whatsoever with the participants, other than reading their applications. In that study, raters were significantly more inclined to offer the position to power-primed candidates than to those primed to feel powerless.

In the second study, raters gave a yes or no judgment regarding acceptance of the candidates into business school, and also assessed how persuasive the candidates were during the interview. The high-power prime increased the likelihood of acceptance by 81 percent compared to the baseline (no prime) condition, and by 162 percent compared to the low-power prime condition. Not too surprisingly, high-power applicants were also perceived as more persuasive than either baseline or low-power applicants.

It may thus be wise to conjure a memory of a time when you were in charge and felt powerful as you prepare for your next interview.” (Read more here.)

I took a look at the study itself, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. I was struck by the way the authors themselves described the results of their experiment: Independent judges, they note, “significantly preferred the written and face-to-face interview performance of powerful applicants to that of powerless or power-neutral applicants.” This seems like a classic case of the rich get richer: we tend to give more power to people who  have (or act like they have) power already.

“Acting powerful” strikes me as something that men are socialized to do much more frequently than women; this exercise may thus be especially useful for female applicants. As Lammers and his coauthors write, “merely asking participants to remember a personal experience with power dramatically affected the impressions that interviewers had of them.” (Read an abstract of the study here.)

What do you think—do you know how to “act powerful” when necessary?

Share Button

2 Responses to “Power Begets Power—Even If You’re Only Acting”

  1. Mark Lee says:

    In her TEDGlobal 2012 talk, HBS Professor Amy Cuddy shared how to project power.

    As mentioned, “Strike a powerful pose (in private) before a job interview, and your performance will improve. ”


  2. Interesting. IMHO, this is why professional athletes hold onto their superstitions / rituals, why people believe in the law of attraction, why arrogant people often win positions of power, etc.

Leave a Reply