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Adam Galinsky: The "E" and "Fan" Experiments

Deb Gruenfeld and Joe Magee conducted a number of studies to see if power leads directly to action, whether power channels behavior toward accomplishing a specific goal, but diminishes

the ability to take the perspectives of others. Our first two experiments were based on her experience on a plane. A high powered business man, instead of turning off the overhead fan directed it right into her face, completely ignoring how his action would affect others. Now Deb sat there, getting colder and colder, until the light bulb went off and she finally realized, “Hey I can turn this off myself”.

In our first experiment, we brought people into a large conference room and had them write one of two essays. Half of them wrote about an incident in which they had power over another an individual. This was our high-power condition. The other half of participants recalled an incident in which someone else had power over them. This was our low power condition. After completing this power manipulation, they were each brought to separate rooms where they were videotaped by a discreetly placed camera. Before entering the rooms, the experimenter explained that they would be completing some more tasks that would be described in packets of paper on the desks in the rooms. In front of their seats, there were table fans blowing on them. This was designed to be quite annoying and irritating. We coded the videotapes to see whether participants moved the fan away, turned it off, or unplugged it or if they took no action involving the fan. Sixty-nine percent of those randomly assigned to the high-power condition moved the fan, whereas just 42% of those in the low-power condition did.

In a follow up experiment, we followed a similar procedure and tested directly whether power reduces perspective-taking. After writing an essay about a high or low power experience, participants were brought into private rooms. and the experimenter explained that the next tasks would be described in a packet on the desks in their rooms. Participants encountered the following instructions. Please follow the instructions below and perform the tasks requested in the order they are presented. They are coordination tasks.

Task 1. With your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, snap your fingers 5 times.

Task 2. With your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, draw a capital E on your forehead with the marker provided. Don’t worry, the marker is non-toxic, and we will make sure it is removed before you leave today.

One way to complete the task is to draw an “E” as though the self is reading it, which leads to a backward and illegible “?” from the perspective of another person. The other way to approach the task is to draw the “?” as though another person is reading it, which leads to production of an “?” that is backward to the self. Participants in the high-power condition were nearly three times more likely (33%)( to draw the “?” in the “self-oriented” direction, indicating a lesser tendency to spontaneously adopt another’s perspective, than were participants in the low power condition (12%).

- Adam Galinsky