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The Amount of Space People Take Says a Lot about Their Feelings of Power

Update Date: Aug 27, 2013 10:20 AM EDT

When it comes to space, especially personal space, people can become very possessive. Personal space, such as office desks or bedrooms, becomes a place where the individual can relax. Once someone bombards into that space, people can feel violated to a certain extent. Even though the concept of personal space is intriguing in itself, a new study looked into how people use that personal space. By examining and observing how people utilize their personal space as well as others', researchers found that certain postures and settings reveal a lot about what the people think about themselves in regards to power. They reported that the more space one takes up, the more power one feels, leading to an increased possibility of being dishonest in order to achieve space and power.

 "Power is like nuclear energy, it can be used for good or bas," Andy Yap, the co-author of the study said reported by TIME. Yap led the study, tying the amount of space people take up to the level of strength or power they feel, at Columbia Business School. "If you're focused on a goal and you'll do whatever it takes - you might cheat." 

Yap worked with Dana Carney, an assistant professor at University of California Berkley's Haas School of Business. They created four situations that gave their participants an opportunity to cheat while being placed in different postures. One of the experiments involved earning money via stretching poses. The researchers informed the participants that they would earn four dollars if they stretched using either an expansive or a confined pose. Instead of giving them four dollars, the researchers offered eight dollars. They found that 78 percent of the people who chose to do the expansive pose took the eight dollars whereas only 38 percent of the people who did the confined pose took the extra bucks. An expansive pose is considered to be a high-power pose that exudes confidence.

In another experiment, the participants played a driving stimulation video game. During the game, the participants were sitting on either a small seat or a large one. The objective of the game was to win under a certain time, resulting in a monetary reward. If a crash were to happen, the players were told to stop driving and count to 10 before hey could proceed again. The researchers found that players who sat on larger chairs were more reckless drivers.

These two specific findings suggest that the more space the participants took, the bolder they became. The researchers believe that their study revealed a lot about how people can optimize behaviors. For example, people who want to feel more confident and give off more energy can change their postures from slouching to standing a bit taller. People can even redecorate their offices to make themselves feel bigger, or at the center. This study adds on to other studies that have also found that posture and space can lead to more self-confidence.

In an older study, researchers found that people who have postures that were considered to be high-power had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. Testosterone has been tied to power and confidence while cortisol is related to anxiety and stress. In another study, researchers found that utilizing these poses during a job interview could make people more confidence while answering questions.

The study, "The Ergonomics of Dishonesty: The Effect of Incidental Posture on Stealing, Cheating and Traffic Violations" can be found here.

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