How Powerful Do You Think You Are?

Portrait of businessman with hand on chair
Photo: Ian Lishman/Corbis

Sometimes the tests psychologists dream up to differentiate one personality type from another are incredibly complicated, involving lengthy questionnaires and complicated analyses. And other times they’re almost comically simple. 

Late last week, Science of Us covered Friend & Foe, a new book by the social psychologists Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, which, hidden among its fascinating insights about competition and collaboration, also includes a somewhat ridiculous way to determine whether you perceive yourself as powerful or not. The instructions are these: “Hold up the index finger of your dominant hand and draw a capital E on your forehead. Do this as quickly as possible, without stopping to think.”

I’ll wait.

Now, consider the E you drew. If you’d had a marker and had actually drawn the letter on your forehead, would someone looking at your face see a regular E or a backward one? Galinsky and Schweitzer theorize that the former means you are more other-focused — that is, more easily able to see the world from another person’s perspective — while the latter, drawn from your own vantage point, implies that you are more self-focused. And this, the authors argue, ties back to your perception of your own power.

The exercise is taken from a study the two psychologists once did with New York University’s Joe Magee, which was designed to determine whether powerful people are as adept at seeing things from another person’s perspective as the less powerful. In an experiment, the researchers first either primed their participants to feel powerful, or not, and then asked them to take on this little quiz. Their results showed people who felt powerful were about three times as likely to draw the backward E compared to those who’d been made to feel less powerful. And this suggests, Galinsky and Schweitzer argue, that “power makes people more focused on their own unique vantage point and oblivious to the perspective of others.”

Incidentally, in their book, Galinsky and Schweitzer write that they tried a real-life version of their lab experiment upon meeting with their editors at Crown Publishing. “Just as in our experiment, the senior editors drew backward E’s,” they write, whereas the “junior editors drew them correctly.” Awkward.

How Powerful Do You Think You Are?