I came across this recent TED Talk (for more info on TED Talks, click here), where social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses her findings on what she calls “power poses.”
Power poses, according to Cuddy, are essentially non-verbal behaviors that communicate a sense of confidence/assertiveness/power, or the lack thereof.
Cuddy mentions the power poses used across various species, including primates, birds and reptiles, and humans. She describes poses demonstrating power as ones were the individual “takes up [physical] space” or “[becomes] big.” Examples of this are the Wonder Woman pose:
Where, as you can see from the above graphic, the person takes a confident stance and takes up space with their feet and elbow positioning. There were other examples as well, such as sitting with one’s feet up on a table, hands behind one’s head with elbows out in a triangular fashion, and more.
Conversely, Cuddy demonstrated the physical positions one can take that exhibit a lack of power – crouching, hunched posture, etc. She described these positions as “making oneself smaller” or “taking up less [physical] space.”
To investigate how power poses impact the individual, Cuddy and her colleagues took saliva samples of research participants before and after having them assume either a powerful or powerless pose. The levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and testosterone (assertive/confidence boosting hormone), were impacted by whether the subject assumed a power position or not. As one might think, those who assumed power poses showed elevated testosterone and decreased cortisol, whereas those who assumed powerless poses showed decreased testosterone and elevated cortisol (please watch the TED Talk for the actual numeric outcomes). With one caveat being that related research has shown that ideal leaders tend to exhibit elevated testosterone and decreased cortisol (assertion without stress), though some leaders can show elevated testosterone and cortisol (assertion and chaotic behavior).
However, what was most interesting about Cuddy’s research and her presentation, was not the definition of a power pose or it’s impact on hormones. Rather, it was how the use of power poses not only communicates assertiveness/confidence/power (or the lack thereof) through body language, but can also actively shape how powerful one feels internally.
Cuddy took her research findings to the classroom and observed that students who felt more powerful also frequently employed power poses, and students who felt less powerful tended towards using less power poses. This led her to posit the idea of “faking it ’til you become it.” In other words, in a situation where many of us often feel less powerful (her example was in a job interview), we should enact power poses for as little as 2 minutes, in order to feel more powerful (and thereby, act more confident/assertive). Once we do this repeatedly (not necessarily for multiple job interviews, moreso on a semi-regular basis in our daily lives), we’ll actually start to feel more confident/assertive, which in turn will cause us to enact more power poses, and thus the cycle reinforces itself.
This linkage between internal thoughts/beliefs and behaviors, has been well documented throughout social science literature (e.g., self-fulfilling prophecy, cognition and behavior research and therapeutic strategies, etc.), but rarely have I come across something as easy to implement or explain, as Cuddy’s suggestion.
At a time in my life when I am going through lots of disenfranchising experiences and needing to rebuild internally, perhaps Cuddy’s findings can help in those moments when I feel the least empowered, and maybe even nudge my self-perception a bit towards the positive. 2 minutes of Wonder Woman’s stance a day seems very doable, and possibly, life changing. For if I start to feel more powerful, if we all felt more powerful, who knows what we could accomplish.
Have you ever tried power poses? Will you try them?
To listen to Cuddy’s talk, click here.