Publication Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The present research demonstrates that negotiators can act powerfully without having power.Researchers and practitioners advise people to obtain strong alternatives prior to negotiating toenhance their power. However, alternatives are not always readily available, often forcingnegotiators to negotiate without much, or any, power. Building on research suggesting thatsubjective feelings of power and objective outcomes are disconnected and that mental simulationcan increase individuals’ aspirations, we hypothesized that the mental imagery of a strongalternative could provide similar psychological benefits to having an actual alternative. Ourstudies demonstrate that imagining strong alternatives causes individuals to negotiate moreambitiously and provides them with a distributive advantage: negotiators reached more profitableagreements when they either had a strong tendency to think about better alternatives (Study 1) orwhen they were instructed to mentally simulate an attractive alternative (Studies 3-4). Mediationanalyses suggest that mental simulation boosts performance because it increases negotiators’aspirations which translate into more ambitious first offers (Studies 2-4), but only when thesimulated alternative is attractive (Study 2b). Our findings further show that mental simulationsare only beneficial when there is sufficient room in the negotiation to reach a profitableagreement, but backfire in settings where negotiators’ positions are difficult to reconcile (Study5). An internal meta-analysis of the file-drawer produces effect size estimates free of publicationbias and demonstrates the robustness of the effect. Our findings contribute to research on socialpower, negotiations, and mental simulation.


negotiation, alternatives, power, ambition, first offer, mental simulation, impasse


Organizational Behavior and Theory | Social Psychology

Research Areas

Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources


Journal of Personality and Social Psychology




American Psychological Association

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.