APR 16, 2015 04:28 PM PDT

Do Power Pose's Effects Stand Up to Research?

WRITTEN BY: Will Hector
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Perhaps researchers should adopt power poses to help them sort out the truth behind the transformative power of standing tall, having hands pressed to the hips, or leaning back with arms crossed behind the head. Social scientists call such postures high-status gestures, or power poses, and a new study from the University of Zurich questions the power of power poses.

The study refutes one of the more popular (six million YouTube hits alone) research topics the last few years-that taking a power posture for two minutes boosts testosterone, reduces stress hormones, and increases self-reported feelings of confidence.
Amy Cuddy during her TED talk.
Amy Cuddy's TED talk on power poses is the second most viewed lecture on that platform, according to the New York Times. Power poses have been featured everywhere from national ad campaigns to the Dilbert comic strip. Cuddy, social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, asserts in a 2010 paper with researchers Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap that lab participants who spent two minutes in a room alone doing high-power poses increased testosterone levels by roughly 20 percent and lowered cortisol levels by around 25 percent.

There have been follow-up studies that corroborate the effects of power posing, including one using students sitting upright and one using slouching baseball pitchers.

A new study by Cuddy and Maarten Bos will demonstrate that stretching out comfortably in a desk chair at a large monitor increases assertiveness when compared with the behavior of subjects hunched up over tablets and smartphones.

The Zurich study takes a different view. Scientists at the University of Zurich have released the results of a large study demonstrating that power poses affect neither the masculine hormone testosterone, the stress hormone cortisol, nor the subjects' actual behavior. Below is a report on their findings. You be the judge.

Power poses let subjects feel more powerful

Bodily demonstrations of power, however, influence one's own perception of power, a result that the previous study also found. Study leader Eva Ranehill of the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich states, "This indicates that the main influence of power poses is the fact that subjects realize that they feel more self-confident. We find no proof, however, that this has any effect on their behavior or their physiology."

In the study, 102 men and 98 women, most of them students from Zurich, were randomly assigned to take on bodily poses with "much power" or "little power." Afterwards, the participants completed a task involving their willingness to take on financial risk where they could choose between a fixed monetary sum and a risky lottery game, the same conditions as in the 2010 study at Harvard. The risky option was a lottery with a 50% chance of either winning either ten or zero francs. The fixed option varied from two to seven francs. In order to assess the effect of the power poses on hormonal levels, two saliva samples from each subject were collected and analyzed. The first saliva sample was taken before the participants had assumed the higher or lower positions and the second at the end of the study, after the behavioral tasks.
It takes more than just one study

"Our study is much more meaningful than the original study, as we have much more data," states Roberto Weber, Professor at the University of Zurich and co-author of the new study. "The greater number of subjects in our study makes it much less probable that our results are due to coincidence. Our study is to the best of our knowledge the only published paper that again examines the effect of power poses on hormones." Roberto Weber adds that the results of the new, larger study also demonstrate how important it is to replicate published research results.

Follow Will Hector: @WriteCompassion

(Sources: New York Times; Science Daily; TED)
About the Author
  • Will Hector practices psychotherapy at Heart in Balance Counseling Center in Oakland, California. He has substantial training in Attachment Theory, Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Psycho-Physical Therapy, and Formative Psychology. To learn more about his practice, click here: http://www.heartinbalancetherapy.com/will-hector.html
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