Does the old saying fake it old you make it hold any water? Turns out maybe. Researchers from Columbia and Harvard Universities posed subjects in one of four positions: two high power positions(expansive, open limbs) and two low power positions(contractive, closed limbs). Then they measured risk taking, self-response about feelings, and testosterone and cortisol.
The high power positions were sitting stretched in a chair with legs propped up on a table and arms behind the head as well as leaning "confidently" over a table while standing. The low power positions were sitting in a chair with hands folded in the lap or standing with arms wrapped and legs crossed. I've helpfully recreated these in poorly drawn stick figures.
A saliva sample was taken 10 minutes after the subject arrived as a baseline. And then later, 17 minutes after they had held their pose. They held each pose for 1 minute and were asked to focus on faces that were shown while holding the position.
To measure risk taking they were given $2 and told they could either keep it or roll dice for a 50/50 chance of either losing it or doubling their money to $4. To get self-reported data they were asked how powerful and in charge they felt on a scale of 1 to 4.
So what happened? The stress and testosterone showed correlation in that high power position resulted in higher testosterone and lower stress and the low power was the other way around.
Of the high power posers 86% took the roll of dice versus 60% of the low power posers. The mean higher power self-rated "in charge" on a scale of 1 to 4 was 2.57 versus 1.83 for low power (both with a standard deviation of 0.81).
So clearly there's something to this. But what exactly? With 42 participants I feel like the sample size is good enough to draw some conclusions. But it'd be nice to separate some of this out. Did taking a risk make them rank themselves as feeling more powerful? Is there any reason to believe the constricting positions were just less comfortable and possibly increased the stress hormone as a direct result? Still it seems to show the possibility that body posture can affect your own level of perceived confidence and a strong likelihood that it can cause slight fluctuations in your hormone levels. So maybe you can fake it until you make it.
Carney, D., Cuddy, A., & Yap, A. (2010). Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance Psychological Science, 21 (10), 1363-1368 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610383437
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