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Can 'power poses' boost self-confidence?
There are many times when we could do with a bit of a confidence boost, such as just before an interview or a date. Being able to boost self-confidence when we need it could have huge positive effects on our professional and personal lives. ‘Power poses’ claim to be able to do just that, but is there any truth to this life hack? We asked 4 experts in psychology and psychiatry, ‘Can ‘power poses’ boost self-confidence?’, here is what we found…
Can 'power poses' boost self-confidence?
What are power poses and where did they come from?
Power poses are poses that are ‘expansive’, meaning poses that take up a lot of space. Examples of these include standing with legs spread apart or putting your hands behind your head.
Power poses were first described in a study published in 2010, and later popularised by a TED talk by one of the study’s authors, Amy Cuddy, in 2012. The 2010 original study included 42 participants and claimed that the participants who held ‘power poses’ for 2 minutes felt more powerful, had higher testosterone levels and were more likely to take risks than those that adopted ‘contractive’ poses like crossed legs. This naturally attracted a huge amount of excitement from the media and public, as this simple hack promised to boost self-confidence and therefore improve success in private and professional life.
What is the evidence that power posing boosts self-confidence?
Dr Joseph Cesario, an expert in psychology from Michigan State University in the USA, says that “the data are reasonably clear at this point that there are no consistent effects of ‘power poses’ on hormones, cognition, or behaviour, and therefore no reason to think that holding ‘power poses’ will have any substantial effects on one's life outcomes.” This view is shared amongst the Metafact experts, as most answered that power posing does not boost self-confidence.
Due to the excitement around the original 2010 study, many scientists have attempted to recreate these results or explore other aspects of what power poses might do. A 2015 study tested the effect of power poses on 200 participants and found that the poses had no effect on risk taking behaviours or hormone levels. Since then, several other studies found that power poses did not have the effects promised by the 2010 paper. The criticism of power poses continues today, and one of the original paper’s authors has since agreed that the effects of power poses are not real.
Why have different studies on power poses come to different conclusions?
There are many reasons why the findings from the original paper have not been successfully repeated. One of this may be that the original study only included 42 people, so the findings might have been by chance. Exactly what poses to use and what effects to measure is also tricky. On top of that is the placebo effect – participants may feel more confident after power posing simply because they think power posing will have that effect on them.
Dr Poppy Brown, an expert in psychiatry from Oxford University in the UK, highlights another important detail, “In past research, power posing has always been compared with contractive posing, not neutral posing. The previously reported difference in feelings of power could simply be the result of contractive poses decreasing these feelings, rather than power posing increasing them. In other words, holding wide and expansive postures may not boost our feelings of power, but holding small and contractive postures may reduce them.”
Dr Brown says “one hundred people reporting high levels of paranoia took part in [our] study. Participants either held powerful poses or neutral poses for two minutes before entering social situations in virtual reality. We then asked them to complete a questionnaire that assessed their feelings of power”. In this study, Dr Brown and her colleagues found that power poses made no difference to self-confidence. She considered that this may be because “when we’re feeling paranoid, an expansive posture makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, rather than powerful.”
When Dr Brown and colleagues repeated the experiment with non-paranoid participants, they found there was a very small increase in participants who felt more powerful after power posing. This small difference could be because some people’s ‘neutral poses’ may actually be slightly contractive, for example they may naturally slouch.
Is there any value in power poses?
Although the original claims around power poses have been refuted, there is evidence that body posture may have some psychological effects and influence social situations. Dr Joseph Paul Forgas, an expert in psychology from UNSW University in Australia, says “There is some evidence that body posture is a nonverbal signal that communicates status and relaxation cues, and this may influence how others respond.”
Dr Brown says that “what might be more important for boosting confidence is to avoid a posture that is small and contractive, such as slouching your shoulders or crossing your arms.”
Holding a power pose for a couple of minutes does not seem to affect hormone levels or psychology. However, sitting up straight and or not crossing your arms may help to your boost confidence.
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