Jul 9, 2013
The briefest answer would be any furniture that makes you feel powerful. But let me be clearer.
Every day, our bodies are continually stretched and contracted by our working and living environments (by the seats in our cars, or the desks and workspaces in our offices). We may pay very little attention to such ordinary and seemingly innocuous shifts in bodily posture, but they can have a tremendous impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Research in psychology as well as my previous work on power-posing has already shown that expansive postures can cause individuals to feel more powerful, and that power can lead to greater corruption. In this research, we found that expansive postures incidentally imposed by our environment can cause individuals to feel more powerful, which consequently cause them to behave more dishonestly. However, there are also other ways our environment can make someone feel powerful. For example, sitting in the chair of someone who has high power or driving a high-status automobile or simply sitting in a taller chair than others.
But how does power corrupt? I think it works in two ways: (1) Power causes you to focus on your own goals and act on it! Power causes you to focus on rewards and take risks to achieve those gains. If you hang a carrot in front of a powerful person (assuming they like carrots), they will act on it, take risks, or cheat and do whatever it takes to get it. (2) Power buffers stress. I have another work with Dana Carney that found that power buffers stress and corrupt acts are perceived to be less stressful and costly to the powerful. Thus, taking both explanations together, powerful individuals are often focused and determined to achieve the prize, and they feel less stress while they cheat or take excessive risks to get it.
Lastly, I must qualify by highlighting that power in itself is not evil. The psychology of power is very intricate. Power is like nuclear energy; it can be used for good and it can be used for evil. Although power through expansive postures can cause you to behave unethically, it can also help buffer you from the stress of life and work.
Andy Yap is a postdoctoral associate and visiting assistant professor in the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.