Power poses

Some aspects of body language are pretty clear cut. When you are sharing your hilarious story of the weekend at the Monday lunch table and someone starts cleaning their nails with a paper clip, you don’t need them to shout, “This is rubbish” for you to know they are disrespecting you. While we all know that body language carries clear messages, just how far the effects go is what interests psychologists and a new study has contradicted some previous wisdom around what we might call “power poses”.

Power poses are also known as “high status gestures” and they include leaning back with the arms behind the head and pressing the hands firmly to the hips. In 2010 Harvard researchers conducted studies showing that power poses caused changes in hormones and influenced how much people were willing to take part in risky behaviour. This new study however, came up with findings at odds with those earlier results.

The new study came from the University of Zurich and involved subjects being randomly assigned to adopt poses of “much power” or “little power”. Before the poses and after some behavioural tasks saliva samples were taken to measure hormone levels. The behavioural task was designed to test their willingness to engage in financial risk. They could either have a fixed sum of money or take part in a risky lottery where their chances of winning were 50-50.

By contrast to the earlier study this new study found no increases in salivary levels of the hormones testosterone or the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally this study found no increased tendency to risky behaviour after adopting a power pose. So whether power poses have the power we once thought is again open to debate.

There was however, a commonality between this new study and the Harvard study. Both studies found that power poses do increase the personal perception of power in the person who adopts the pose. Maybe striking that pose won’t change your hormones or your behaviour, maybe, but at least they’ll give your mojo a boost.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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