The Power Trap

The ego issue: We've all been inspired by the research that finds that an Olympic-medalist body posture—arms out, legs spread—boosts testosterone levels and self-confidence in just two minutes. However, in some settings, the "power pose" can tip over into dishonesty, concluded a study led by Andy Yap, PhD, a lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Dr. Yap and his colleagues found that when people had to—out of necessity—stretch out their limbs in a generous SUV-style driver's seat or at a large (24-by-38-inch) desk, they were likelier to steal money (not report overpayment), cheat on a test and commit traffic violations than in places where their bodies were more constricted.

The fix: Keep your throne or oversize workstation, Dr. Yap says; after all, the feeling of heightened power can also decrease stress and make you feel more positive. But in those settings, he recommends finding ways to stay alert to larger goals. When powerful people focus on noble principles—duty, obligation, accountability—he explains, they're much less likely to behave unethically. (Which brings to mind a slogan I once saw splashed on a wall of an oversize studio, perhaps by the artist to keep herself in check: "Art and Ego Are Antithetical.")

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