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. Indeed, it may even be tempting to engage in this type of exercise in a variety of arenas, for example, when buying a car or trying to talk your way out of a speeding ticket. Before you adopt personal power as your universal inner mantra, however, know that there are perils and pitfalls to power. As noted earlier, feelings of empowerment compel people to action. These actions may be socially altruistic, like donating to public radio, but they may also be self-serving, like turning off an annoying fan without permission, or even socially caustic, like consuming more than one's fair share of a common resource. Furthermore, feelings of power may make you less sensitive to the interests and positions of others, more likely to stereotype others, and less interested in seeking confirming evidence for your opinions or judgments.
In some cases, power can really go to your head. Empowered people are not only more confident that those with less power, they in fact exhibit hubristic overconfidence, both about events within their control and about events that are clearly outside their control. Individuals with a high sense of power, for example, are not only more likely to believe that their achievements will be celebrated by the press, they are also less likely to believe that they will experience turbulence on a plane or encounter a venomous snake. This overconfidence creates a sense of invulnerability, which in turn can result in a willingness to engage in risky behaviors, like having sex without a condom or taking bigger risks at the black jack table. In negotiations, this risk-tolerance leads empowered individuals to reveal more about their preferences and priorities, potentially leaving them vulnerable to their opponent's tactics.
Power as a pervasive personal philosophy clearly has its drawbacks. We have known this more than 100 years: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Research on interpersonal relations certainly seems to support this premise. However, a small dose of power, right before your next interview, may be just what the doctor ordered to improve your odds of landing the job.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.