Imagine you have a magic marker (washable) in your hand…

now draw a capital letter E on your forehead.  Go ahead, raise your hand to your head and draw it.

Did you draw it facing me (so I could read it), or facing you (so the little guy in your head could read it)?

If you read this week’s New Yorker, you know why I’m asking… there was a little piece about researchers who believe that the direction you draw your E reveals something about whether you are, at that moment, a perspective-taking kind of person (who would draw an E for others to read) or thinking from your own perspective primarily (the inward-facing E).  They hypothesized that people with more power would draw the inward-facing E, and people with less power would be more likely to take others’ perspective and draw the outward-facing E.  They primed people to feel powerful by having them write about a time they were completely dominant over someone else, then primed others to feel less powerful by having them write about being completely submissive to someone else, and sure enough, the first group was much more likely to draw the inward-facing E.

The journalist writing about it asked a lot of famous, powerful people at the Time 100 (most influential) banquet, and all but one drew outward-facing E’s.  But a banquet is a pretty other-oriented event, don’t you think?  Also, they were allowed to draw on post-it notes placed on their foreheads, and I think paper implies a reader and has a more clear front and back directionality than a forehead does (if that makes any sense).  So that’s my take on that.  Interestingly, the SNL ladies were the only ones who refused to participate… who knows why, but I would have thought that comedians would be interested in every odd facet of human behavior  – isn’t that their fuel?

Part of the reason I’m so interested in this question, even though I’m not convinced that it’s a good way to measure how powerful someone feels or how much they take another’s perspective, is that I had the strongest reaction: of course I’d draw the outward-facing E.  I can’t even imagine the other ones.  And I figured everyone else would feel the same way.  But when I started asking colleagues and friends, the first three I asked all drew inward-facing Es!

To me, my outward-facing E is a sign of the importance of communication and relationships for me… what’s the point of drawing a letter that no one can read?  my subconscious thinks.  We are who we are through the web of connections extending out from us, through the people we affect, help, inspire… well, that’s how I often feel, anyway.

What was your E?  What’s your take on this?



Filed under article, randomness, science

6 responses to “Imagine you have a magic marker (washable) in your hand…

  1. R

    I’m squarely in the outward facing camp. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly powerless — but I do tend to believe that what power I have comes primarily from my ability to communicate effectively.

  2. I would be interested to know if there is a difference between left and right handers for this.

  3. Nicole

    I faced mine inward. I’d say that pretty much fits this time in my life. I’ll try to remember to do this again in 10 years and see if the outcome is the same.

  4. I drew the ‘E’ facing me, which surprised me. I tend to look to other sources for opinion and perspective before shaping my own, because I like to get as many possible sides as I can.
    Now, I’m off to read that article because it happens that this week, I have that NY’er in my bag!

  5. I am on the outside. Interesting to consider. I’m not sure if I buy power/powerless, but I’m glad to be on the power side and I am left handed and that could make a difference.

  6. I write on kids’ papers as they sit facing me – I write from their perspective so they can see. Same with the “E”

    (btw, I am okay at upside down writing. Numbers are fine. Only problems I have are the occasional misqlaceb ‘b’ ‘d’ ‘p’ or ‘q’)


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