We all know that our body language can give off signals to those around us about how we’re truly feeling.
Crossed arms or “closed body language” suggest that we’re feeling defensive and aren’t really receptive to who we’re listening to. Fidgeting suggests that we’re bored. And poor eye contact or blushing can suggest that we are lying (surely not!?).
Strike a Power Pose
But a new development in body language, which has hit the headlines in recent years, is the power pose. This is a theory put forward by US social psychologists Amy Cuddy, Dana Carney and Andy Yap, who proposed in 2011 that “when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.”
What they suggest is that the simple act of holding a powerful pose – for instance, legs up on the desk and arms held expansively behind your head – can raise your testosterone (the hormone that affects dominance) and lower your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.
The study assessed participants’ hormone levels before and after they held high power (expansive positions with open limbs) and low power (contracted positions with closed limbs) poses. It found that their initial hypothesis was true – we can indeed “fake it ’til we make it.”
Just as a male gorilla beats his chest to assert his hierarchical dominance, or a peacock fans his tail feathers, humans can use open and expansive body language to enhance their confidence, increase their feelings of power, and lower their stress levels.
These findings build on several psychological studies which suggest that using certain body language can change our emotional state. For instance, nodding “yes” can make you easier to persuade, and, when you smile, you can feel more positive.
Power Poses in the Workplace
So, how can powerful poses help us in the workplace? Or, indeed, in our everyday lives?
Well, the study proposes that, simply by striking a power pose, you can better prepare yourself for difficult or stressful situations. Perhaps you’ve got a presentation that you’re nervous about making, or a job interview coming up, or you have to deliver some bad news.
Holding a power pose, even in private, can help you to approach these events in a confident and less stressed way. In contrast, a weak pose that uses closed body language (hunched shoulders, folded arms, etc) can make you perform poorly.
Our Body Language Can Impact Our Wellbeing
The study also suggests that persistently practising these power poses can, over time, improve our health and wellbeing. And it can be particularly useful for people who feel consistently powerless and overlooked, or who have low self-confidence.
Cuddy and her team point to several other studies that have shown how chronically high cortisol levels can lead to stress-related health issues such as impaired immune functioning, hypertension and memory loss. In contrast, low cortisol and high testosterone levels (both of which improve when we strike a power pose) can make us both more resistant to disease and able to lead effectively!
However, since it was published, a number of academics have questioned Cuddy, Carney and Yapp’s findings. In particular, a study led by statistician Eva Ranehill, published in 2015, aimed to replicate the 2011 experiment using a larger group of participants. It revealed that there was little evidence to suggest that power poses could help to improve feelings of power.
But, that is not to suggest that it can’t be a real phenomenon. Just that it will likely work better for some people than it does for others.
Will You be Striking a Pose?
Ultimately, Cuddy’s findings have proved enormously popular since they were first published. In fact, her TEDtalk on the subject continues to be one of the most popular of all time, and has more than 12m views on YouTube.
So, it’s up to you, really, whether you believe in the power of power poses or not. Do you think that we can change the way that we feel and act just by changing our body language? The next time that you’re faced with a stressful situation, will you strike a power pose? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
I for one – as someone who openly admits to struggling with nerves and persistently shies away from public speaking of any kind – am open to giving it a whirl the next time such a situation crops up. It can’t hurt, and it may even help. And if it doesn’t, then there’s at least a laugh to be had over my cheesy superwoman impression!