Some people worry their smartphone is making them stupid. It might be worse than that: Your phone might be making you wimpy, too.
A new study by two Harvard Business School researchers finds that the size of your digital device may help determine your assertiveness. Really. Researchers Maarten W. Bos and Amy J. C. Cuddy gave test subjects four different-sized Apple (AAPL) products — an iPod (about the same size as an iPhone), an iPad, a MacBook laptop and an iMac desktop — on which they spent several minutes taking a survey and playing games. The researchers then analyzed the subjects’ behavior following the digital sessions, to find out how much size matters. A lot, it turns out.
There was a direct correlation between the size of the device people used and the “power-related behavior” they showed immediately afterward. People who used the iPod, the smallest device, were relatively reluctant to get up and find the interviewer when forced to wait longer than the five-minute period they had been promised. Some sheepishly waited twice as long, when researchers came to fetch them because of a 10-minute limit on waiting time.
Yet nearly everybody who used the largest computer, the iMac, got impatient after the five-minute period expired; they went to find the person in charge. Across all four products, the larger the device, the more likely people were to get up and take control after the waiting period ended. “Interacting with smaller versus bigger devices has an impact on subsequent power-related behavior,” the study concluded. “Participants interacting with smaller devices were less assertive.”
Before plunking down $67 billion for a gargantuan IBM Sage system, however, consider why bigger machines seem to generate bigger attitude. It’s not that small gizmos deplete your ego or attract mousier people; it’s the way users adapt their posture to the size of the device they’re using.
Smaller gizmos require us to hunch over and contract our shoulders, a type of posture that apparently sends the message we’re docile and subservient — even to ourselves. Bigger gizmos, by contrast, allow “expansive body posture,” according to the Harvard study, since we can sprawl and spread out while reading from a 20-inch monitor four feet from our face. Other research shows we tend to maintain the position our gizmos coax us into for a while. And expansive posture helps generate a commanding attitude. So if you’re cranking out a few emails right before heading into a meeting, you may arrive at the conference room as either a shrunken iPhone serf or a lordly iMac comandante, depending on your chosen tool.
Bos and Cuddy say workers may want to lay off their gizmos for a few minutes before heading into an important meeting, lest you underwhelm your colleagues with meekness. Another strategy might be to amp up your ability to influence and intimidate by making sure you have the bossiest gizmos on the market, such as:
- The Samsung Mega 6.3 smartphone, which is so much bigger than a typical phone that it’s like holding an entire cell phone tower up to your ear. If you can’t score one from Europe, where they’re available, the Galaxy Note II and Optimus G Pro smartphones each have a 5.5-inch screen that dwarf the iPhone’s puny 4-incher.
- A dual-screen laptop that takes mobility back to ancestral levels with heavy, bulky packaging that’s sure to leave you feeling muscular.
- A multi-monitor desktop, to give your cubicle the authoritative feel of the NORAD command center. Your body posture may become so expansive with one of these systems that you have to commandeer a nearby cubicle just to use all this digital real estate.
By the same token, power-mongerers may want to avoid any gizmos labeled mini, micro, nano or invisible. Or else use them with a telescope.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.