Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s 2010 TED talk on “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are“, is one of the most watched TED videos of all time, with more than 25 million views.
Cuddy explains how body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
It’s a great video, I have been showing it to my classes for several semesters. I have even tried doing power poses in my office before my first classes of the semester a few times! I make sure the door is shut though
Cuddy backs up her ideas with research she has conducted over the years, as well as with some personal experiences, and so I was convinced of the validity of the message.
Until there was an article in the Huffington Post yesterday about a study that calls into dispute some of Cuddy’s findings.
Dr. Eva Ranehill, a University of Zurich psychologist and the study’s lead author, found that these so-called “power poses” don’t seem to cause any physiological or behavioral changes that make people act more powerfully.
Ranehill’s team found that, “… if anything, people who had been placed in the high-power pose took less risk and had lower testosterone than those who had been placed in the low-power pose. The differences are not statistically significant, but this is the opposite of what the 2010 study found.”
For the new study, the researchers had 200 volunteers (as compared to only 42 volunteers in the original study) give saliva samples in order to have their hormone levels tested. Then, they performed a simple task while sitting either leaning back in a chair with feet up, or slumped over and looking down — the same two poses from the original study. Afterward, they answered questions about how powerful they felt.
What happened? The volunteers said they felt more powerful after sitting in the expansive pose, but a subsequent behavioral test revealed they weren’t any more willing to engage in competition against other volunteers or to take risks, and the saliva tests revealed that their hormone levels hadn’t changed at all.
Their study did however, confirm that power posing still made people report greater feelings of power, which was similar to the original study.
This suggests that the main influence of power posing is to make people report that they feel more confident, but there is no evidence that this translates into their behavior or affects their physiology.
So what are we to believe? Is there any benefit from using power poses? Have I misled a few hundred students? Was I a fool to have stood in my office and pose like Usain Bolt (please don’t answer that question…).
Does this mean we need to question all scientific studies? Will we find out some day that smoking and red meat are good for us? Was Woody Allen right on target wit this clip from his movie “Sleeper”?
My guess is that the reality about power poses lies somewhere between the results of these two studies. While there may not have been any noticeable behavioral or hormonal changes found in the new study, I think there is still value in the fact that a person’s perceptions about how powerful they felt changed as a result of specific poses.
There appears to be a decent amount of research that shows that perceptions affect behavior, and that perception becomes reality. So I am not sure why this new study by Ranehill’s team did not find such links.
I do think a key takeaway from the two power posing studies is that it’s probably a good idea to question any scientific study where the results may not make sense to us or match our view of reality.
Who knows, we may find out some day that smoking, red meat, and dairy are good for us (although I doubt it).
Perhaps Woody Allen was more prophetic than he realized in this clip from his movie “Sleeper”.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to do my Usain Bolt imitation.