Strike a pose, feel the power!

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Simply adjusting the way we stand or sit can have an important biological and psychological effect on how powerful we feel.

I recently watched a TED talk by Social psychologist Amy Cuddy about the importance of body language. We all know how important it is, however, when we think of non-verbals, we often associate them with how we are judged or how we judge others. We often forget about ourselves and how our thoughts, feelings and our physiology are influenced by these non-verbals

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Powerposing

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I was particularly intrigued by power dynamics and non-verbal’s expressions of ‘power’ and ‘dominance’. In the animal kingdom, they are about expanding, making your self big, stretching and opening yourself up. This is true across all animal kingdom and humans do it to. They do this when they have power chronically or when they feel powerful in the moment.

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This expression is known as ‘pride’. A study has shown that people who are born with or without sight strike this pose when they win a physical competition. It’s seen everywhere in sports. These expressions show us how universal they really are.

Research from Columbia University and Harvard University ran an experiment in which male and female participants were told to adopt four different poses for one minute each.

The poses comprised of two ‘high power’ body positions (sat in a chair; arms behind head and feet up on the desk; and standing upright behind a table; legs apart, hands resting weight on the table and leaning forward) and two ‘low power’ body positions (sat on a chair, feet firmly on the floor, hands on lap and elbows tucked inside the chair armrests; and standing upright, legs closed together and arms folded across each other, as if the participants were trying to hug themselves. After the pose holding minute, participants were first given $2 and then asked if they would take a 50/50 $2 gamble to double their money. Second, they were asked to rate how ‘powerful’ and ‘in charge’ they felt on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 4 (a lot). Saliva tests were also taken before and after the experiment. The aim of the experiment was to find out whether simply adopting a ‘power pose’ would increase an individual’s risk taking appetite and their feeling of power as well as to see whether any biological changes would take place as a result of the poses. In particular, the academics were keen to discover how testosterone (a hormone commonly associated with feeling of power) and cortisol (a hormone commonly taken as a proxy for feeling of stress) would change as a result of the poses.

To avoid any unwanted behavior that might bias the result, participant were told the study was regarding research into changes of the heart rate in different scenarios and were all hooked up to electrocardiography ECG monitors.

The researchers’ hypothesis were confirmed on all counts. Of the participants who had adopted ‘high power’ body position, 86 percent gambled their $2 in pursuit of $4 (a risky, but nonetheless reasonably rational choice) whereas a much lower 60 percent ‘low power’ posers chose to take the gamble.

‘High power’ posers reported feeling of power on a scale of 1 to 4 at an average of 2.57 compared with 1.83 with ‘low power’ posers. Most fascinatingly, ‘high power’ posers testosterone levels rose relative to baseline by 19 percent while cortisol levels dropped by 25 percent, whereas ‘low power’ posers’ testosterone levels declined by 10 percent and and cortisol levels rose as a result of the body position by 17 percent.

No significant gender differences were noticed in the main findings of the study (although unsurprisingly, testosterone levels were higher at all times in men than in women). In short, simply by adopting a more affirmative body pose for a short space of time, you will feel more confident and in control, be more willing to take risks and change your testosterone and Cortisol levels.

So next time you walk into your office, look at how your colleagues compose themselves physically. Who is hunched up in their chair?

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