Researchers have even found you can make someone feel power just by posing them in a dominant, expansive position. Think of the shape athletes make when they win something big: Arms outstretch, back arched. Even blind athletes upon victory will strike the same pose, and they didn't learn it by seeing anyone do it. It's that fundamental.
Power isn't corrupting; it's freeing, says Joe Magee, a power researcher and professor of management at New York University. "What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge," he says. "More of us walk around with kinds of social norms; we work in groups that exert all pressures on us to conform. Once you get into a position of power, then you can be whoever you are."
This manifests in several different ways. For one, the powerful are seen to be less likely to take into account the perspective of others. In one experiment participants were primed to feel powerful or not, and then asked to draw the letter "e" on their foreheads. The letter can be drawn so it looks correct to others, or correct to the person drawing. In this case, high-powered people are two to three times more likely to draw an "e" that appears backwards to others. That is, they were more likely to draw a letter that could only be read by themselves.
Power lends the power holder many benefits. Powerful people are more likely to take decisive action. In one simple experiment, it was shown that people made to feel powerful were more likely to turn off an annoying fan humming in the room. Power reduces awareness of constraints and causes people act more quickly. Powerful people also tend to think more abstractly, favoring the bigger picture over smaller consequences. Powerful people are less likely to remember the constraints to a goal. They downplay risks, and enjoy higher levels of testosterone (a dominance hormone), and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
"People who are given more power in the lab, they see more choice," Magee says. "They see beyond what is objectively there, the amount of choice they have. More directions for what actions they can take. What it means to have power is to be free of the punishment that one could exert upon you for the thing you did."
Which paves the way for another hallmark of the powerful — hypocrisy. Our guts are right about this one. On a survey, powerful study participants indicated that they were less tolerant of cheating than the less powerful. But then when given the opportunity to cheat and take more compensation for the experiment, the powerful caved in. The authors explain how these tendencies can actually perpetuate power structures in society.
This means that people with power not only take what they want because they can do so unpunished, but also because they intuitively feel they are entitled to do so. Conversely, people who lack power not only fail to get what they need because they are disallowed to take it, but also because they intuitively feel they are not entitled to it.
Where hypocrisy comes, infidelity follows. While stories of politician infidelity are high profile and more therefore salient — think Mark Sanford flying off to South America to be with a lover while telling aides he was hiking the Appalachian trail; or Arnold Schwarzenegger keeping secret a son he had with a mistress — there is evidence that the powerful are more likely to stray into an affair. In a survey of 1,500 professionals, it was found that people higher ranked on a corporate hierarchy were more likely to indicate things like "Would you ever consider cheating on your partner?" on a seven-point scale (this was found true for both men and women). Dishonesty and power go hand-in-hand. In his most recent research, Yap found that just by posing people in the outstretched, power position, they would more likely to take more money than entitled for their time. (Posing like this for two minutes was also found to increase testosterone and lower cortisol hormone levels. So if you want to feel powerful, make yourself big.)