Author: Katie Appleyard

I am currently doing a Coursera course from the University of Michigan and I watched a lecture by Dr Scott DeRue on power. He explained three studies done by himself or his colleagues that reported how personal empowerment could lead to more opportunities for success.

There were five studies that he used as examples that I found particularly interesting. I will explain them very briefly.

  • Prior to a game of blackjack, participants were either primed with power, or primed with powerlessness. Those who were primed with power were more likely to take greater risks for greater reward during the game.
  • In another study, participants were put into a room with an annoyingly loud fan. 70% of the group primed with power got up and did something about the fan, such as unplug it. Only 40% of the group who were primed with powerlessness got up and took action.
  • It has been theorised that those who feel empowered see responsibility as opportunity and those who feel powerless see responsibility as a burden “a weight on their shoulders”. A study tested this idea by asking participants to estimate the weight of weighted boxes. Before priming, the participants estimated the weights approximately the same as each other. However after priming, those who were primed with power estimated the boxes to be lighter and those who were primed with powerlessness estimated the boxes to be heavier.
  • In another study, those who were primed with power had four times better cardiac output than those who were primed with powerlessness.
  • Lastly and most interestingly for me, a study found that those who were primed with power were far less likely to conform. As Dr DeRue explains, this has important implications for business, as non-conformity, thinking outside of the box and not settling for the status quo is crucial for creativity. This aligns beautifully with a post I previously published titled Constructive Nonconformity.

These findings led the researchers to consider the following possibilities:

  • A more empowered person is more likely to take higher risks for higher reward.
  • A more empowered person is more likely to take action.
  • A more empowered person is more likely to see responsibility as opportunity, whilst those who feel powerless will see the same responsibility as a burden.
  • A more empowered person may have better health outcomes.
  • A more empowered person may be more creative and innovative.

I cannot vouch for the legitimacy of this science, because I have not read the actual academic articles in detail, only listened to the lecture. However, it seems to be common sense really.

Here is what I took from this lecture that has real life application for everybody:

If I have a big meeting where I feel that I will be spoken over and I need extra sass; if I am about to sit some sort of assessment; if I am about to do something that scares me – the best thing I can do is prime myself with power beforehand. Be it the night before, or even moments before.

So how do you prime yourself with power?

In these studies, priming with power was as simple as getting the participant to discuss, or write about a time when they felt powerful. So the best thing you can do is keep a journal and when you are feeling powerless, write down as many examples you can think of in which you were empowered;  you felt powerful, influential, or as though you had been a leader rather than a follower; made a difference; stood up for someone, etc.

Keep this journal and read it whenever you feel powerless. Remind yourself how untrue this thought actually is.

This simple act may be enough to make you speak up in that meeting, or take that calculated risk that pays off. Or have the confidence to not conform and instead, to innovate.

Much love XX

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Hi, I’m Katie. I am a kiwi neuroscientist with a love for consuming and creating content. This site is where I share my personal thoughts and the thoughts of incredible minds from around the world. PhD in Neuroscience, University of Otago.

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