So there are regions of the frontal lobes
that are now being called the empathy network
and those regions of the brain do a lot of things,
but what one of the things that they do is
they can help us detect other people’s pain
when you damage the empathy networks of your brain
which some people do, they become really impulsive
and you can have people who were really good citizens of the world, right?
And if they have this head trauma
and little chunks of the frontal lobes are gone
they’ll start swearing suddenly,
they’ll start yelling at their kids,
they feel disconnected.
In the neuroscience literature they call this
“acquired sociopathy” –
through brain trauma you become a sociopath
and our lab studies find
if you give people a little bit of power
they kind of look like those brain trauma patients, right?
So we find like,
if I feel powerful, I flirt inappropriately,
I am more likely at work to swear or act in a rude fashion,
I’m more likely to gamble.
It makes you impulsive.
When you feel powerful
you kind of lose touch with other people.
You stop attending carefully to what other people think.
In our lab its come to be known as the Cookie Monster study.
We brought three people to the lab.
We pointed to one person and said, “you’re in charge,” right?
And that person kind of felt powerful
and then they had to do this really boring task of
like writing policy for the University.
And they’re getting kinda bored.
We bring a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
Everybody takes one cookie.
All groups always leave one cookie on the plate
because you don’t want to be that person that takes the last cookie.
So there’s that fourth cookie
and we find high-powered people they reach out and take it.
And then my grad student, Dan Ward at the time,
he came to me and is like,
“I think people are eating differently when they have power.
and lo and behold our high-powered person
is more likely to be with their mouth open, lips-smacking,
crumbs literally like falling onto their sweaters…(laughs)…