Powerful People Are Messier Eaters, Maybe

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Photo: HBO

A snazzy new video from the folks at U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center gives a brief overview of their research on the unexpected consequences of feeling powerful. Their studies have shown, for example, that even when you give people a teensy bit of (mostly pretend) power, they tend to act in ways that are more impulsive and more selfish. 

Dacher Keltner, a U.C. Berkeley psychologist, describes what he’s come to call their Cookie Monster study: He and his team divided study participants into groups of three, randomly assigning one person to act as the leader. The researchers gave the trios a relatively boring task and made them work on that for a little while, and then brought in a plate of four cookies. Each participant took one, and they left the fourth for a little while, but in most groups, the leader eventually grabbed the last cookie for themselves.

But Keltner says that one of his grad students noticed something they weren’t exactly expecting: an apparent correlation between perceived power and terrible table manners. “He came to me and he’s like, I think people are eating differently when they have power,” Keltner says in the video. “And, lo and behold, our high-power person is more likely to eat with their mouth open, lips smacking, crumbs literally like falling onto their sweater. It’s ridiculous.”