Standing in a powerful position - with a broad posture, hands on hips, shoulders high and pushed back - does not make you feel psychologically and physiologically stronger and could potentially backfire, a new study has found.
The idea that standing in power poses helps is intuitively appealing, especially for people without much confidence. The problem is that it is simply not true, researchers said.
Researchers at University of Pennsylvania in the US attempted to replicate the original power pose study that appeared in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science. That study reported increases in feelings of power, risk taking and testosterone and a decrease in cortisol.
The Penn researchers found no support for any of the original effects, what is called embodied cognition. “We did find that if anything - and we’re sceptical of these results, because we’d want to replicate them - that, if you’re a loser and you take a winner or high power pose, your testosterone decreases,” said Coren Apicella, an assistant professor at the School of Arts & Sciences.
“People might not be able to ‘fake it until they make it,’ and in fact it might be detrimental,” said Kristopher Smith, a psychology PhD student at Pennsylvania. The researchers opted to use as their starting point the notion of contest winners and losers. Before a competition, animals make their bodies as large as possible, gritting their teeth, making their hair stand on edge.
In some situations, humans can similarly showcase displays of confidence intended to intimidate an opponent. “We know that hormones change in this competitive context, especially testosterone,” Apicella said, referring to a well-known finding called the “winner-loser effect.” “Winners experience a relative increase in testosterone compared to losers. The evolutionary theory for that is, if you just won a competitive interaction, that testosterone may be motivating you to take on future competition. If you lost, it’s saying, back off, you don’t want to get your butt kicked again,” she said.
With that as the backdrop, the Penn researchers brought in nearly 250 college-age males from the Philadelphia region to take part in their study. Participants provided a saliva sample to offer a baseline measure for testosterone and cortisol levels, then took part in rounds of tug-of-war. One person was declared the strong man, the other the weak man. “They would then make a high, low or neutral power pose,” Smith explained, based on a random placement into one of the three groups.
While posing, study subjects viewed faces on a computer screen, the same images used in the original study, then 15 minutes later, the researchers took a second saliva sample to measure the same hormones they looked at to start. “We didn’t find any support for this idea of embodied cognition,” Apicella said. The new study was published in the journal Hormones and Behaviour.