Power posing will not turn you into Superwoman

A new meta-analysis from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS reveals important deficiencies in previous studies that suggest that by power posing for two minutes, you can manipulate yourself into becoming more assertive and thus improve your performance at job interviews.    

15.09.2020 | MICHAEL SCHRØDER

PHOTO: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash

Power posing has been extensively debated among psychologists and behavioural scientists since Amy Cuddy, an American professor of social psychology, launched the concept in a 2012 TED talk1) with the catchphrase “Fake it ‘till you become it”.

With over 56 million views, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is still the second most viewed TED talk of all times.

But will power posing for two minutes before Showtime actually make you perform better at the job interview, in the negotiations or the public presentation? Will you make a better impression on the HR manager, the negotiation partner or the audience simply after two minutes of power posing?

Yes, says Cuddy in her TED talk and refers to a 2010 study conducted by her and her colleagues Dana Carney and Andy Yap2).

Not exactly, says PhD fellow Emma Elkjær Poulsen from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University. She has reviewed almost all studies on the topic - many conducted after 2010.   

Debunking the myth

“The result is a meta-analysis in which we show that it is most likely not the power poses that help people gain self-confidence. In fact, there appears to be no difference between a neutral posture or a power pose. So ff anything, research shows that a hunched or closed posture can seemingly have a negative effect and that ‘not hunching’ is as great as adopting a power posture,” says Emma Elkjær Poulsen.

She has conducted the meta-analysis together with a number of Danish and international researchers as part of her PhD project. The analysis has been published in the recognised, scientific journal Perspectives on Psychological Science3).

"It is a methodological flaw that many studies do not include a control group. Without a control group, you cannot say whether the effect is caused by the presence of power posing or by the absence of a slumped posture."

Emma Elkjær Poulsen, PhD fellow, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus BSS 

Control group needed

Out of 5,819 publications, the researchers identified 73 relevant, independent studies, which involved 7,038 participants in total and were published between 1982 and 2019. All of the studies manipulated motor displays to be either expansive or contractive and explored the effect of these expressions on emotions, hormones and behaviour. Of the 73 studies, 48 were suited for the overall meta-analysis, while the remaining 25 investigated motor displays in addition to other manipulations such as the effect of power posing when others are present.. 

One of the problems in many of the studies is the lack of a neutral control group.

“It is a methodological flaw that many studies do not include a control group. Without a control group, you cannot say whether the effect is caused by the presence of power posing or by the absence of a slumped posture. For this reason, it would be very important to include a neutral control group when conducting research within this area,” Elkjær Poulsen explains.    

Hormonal effect or not

Another issue that researchers have debated intensively since 2010 is the fact that Cuddy and colleagues claim to be able to prove that power posing has a hormonal effect. That adopting an open and relaxed posture triggers more of the male hormone testosterone, while it limits the body’s production of the stress hormone, cortisol. And vice versa; when contracting the body in a closed posture, the body produces more cortisol and less testosterone.

“Put simply, this issue has not been sufficiently explored. Thus, we cannot say much about the hormonal effect. Previous studies have used saliva swabs and we encourage future studies to use blood samples,” says Elkjær Poulsen.  

An experimental environment

Finally, the researchers point out that it is problematic that the 2010 study and similar studies were conducted in closed laboratory settings, and that the experiments do not consider the participants’ own emotional state, goals and wishes.

“It goes without saying that context is crucial for how people behave.  Most likely, it It will not make sense to behave like a Superwoman in a job interview setting if you are not interested in the job or are not looking for a job. ,” says Elkjær Poulsen.

Summing up, the researchers argue that future research in this field should include neutral control groups, include different methods to uncover possible hormonal effects, and finally put these possible effects into context taking individual differences and goals into account. For this purpose, the researchers have received a DKK 5.3 million grant from the Velux Foundation. The grant will go towards establishing a “MOTOR group” to be led by Associate Professor Mia Skytte O’Toole, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Science, Aarhus BSS.     

Sources:

  1. TED Talk: Your body language may shape who you are. Amy Cuddy.
  2. Dana R. Carney, Amy J. C. Cuddy, Andy J. Yap: Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance. Psychological Science (2010).
  3. Emma E. Poulsen, Mai B. Mikkelsen, Johannes Michalak: Expansive and Contractive Postures and Movement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Motor Displays on Affective and Behavioral Responses. Perspectives on Psychological Science (2020)