Power and Performance

People perform better when they remember times they felt powerful.

People will perform better during job interviews, presentations, and exams if they can easily think back to times when they felt powerful. That’s according to new research by Joris Lammers of the University of Cologne in Germany; David Dubois of INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France; Derek D. Rucker of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; and Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University in New York City.

According to Galinsky, merely remembering “a past episode of power can significantly transform thinking, feeling, and behaviors across social situations—and yield significant social advantages like greater optimism, persuasive abilities, and eventually even land you a job.” Past research has shown that those with a sense of high power are more confident, better able to hold on to resources, and more likely to oppose the greater good for their own gain.

The authors tested whether a change in the ease of recalling a high-power experience would moderate these consequences in experiments in which people were asked to remember episodes of powerfulness or powerlessness. In addition, the researchers measured subjects’ responses toward consequences of power, such as greater confidence or likelihood to disobey orders.

In one experiment, participants in the high-power condition reported being more likely to exceed the speed limit when running late than those in the low-power condition—but only when they could retrieve memories of powerful experiences.

“Difficulty in remembering an episode of power may either be chronic or situational,” says Galinksy. For example, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds might find it difficult to recall a power-related memory.

Organizations that want to boost employees’ confidence could look for ways for them to feel powerful, the researchers suggest, such as involving workers in activities that give them opportunities to realize they control their own destinies and resources.

“Ease of Retrieval Moderates the Effects of Power: Implications for the Replicability of Power Recall Effects” was published in the February 2017 issue of Social Cognition.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2017 print issue. If you have comments or feedback on its content, please contact us at [email protected].