Can holding "Power Poses" improve your life?

Can making your body physically expansive have positive effects on your life? There has been much excitement and publicity over the possibility that holding “power poses” can make you more likely to succeed in life, especially if you are "chronically powerless because of lack of resources, low hierarchical rank, or membership in a low-power social group” (Carney et al., 2010). Indeed, it has been claimed that holding an expansive pose for just two minutes is an easy technique for powerless people to achieve the outcomes they want in life.

 

As one indicator of how this research has captured public attention, over 40 million people have viewed an online TED talk recommending power poses (Cuddy, 2012). It is difficult to think of many topics in social psychology that have so quickly captured such wide public interest.

A number of scholars and researchers have already offered critical comments and questioned the replicability of the published effects (including the original author of the Power Pose research, Dana Carney).

Now, we provide two new critiques that seriously undermine the idea that Power Poses can positively impact your life:

     I. A new paper at Social Psychological and Personality Science (2018) by Joseph Cesario & David Johnson tests whether Power Poses have any measurable effects when tested with more realistic methods, such as when performing in the presence of another person. Four studies with total sample sizes larger than nearly every other study on the topic show -- unequivocally -- that Power Poses have no effects on any behavioral or cognitive measure. In one study, for example, participants watched the popular TED talk on Power Poses, held an expansive pose, and then completed a negotiation task with another participant. On all the measured dependent variables, expansive participants did no better than their partners.

     Given that Power Pose advocates such as Cuddy explicitly recommend holding poses before interacting with another person (e.g., on the way to your boss to negotiate a raise), this should give serious pause to those advocating Power Poses as a means to get what you want out of life.

See the publications page for a copy of our manuscript, "Power Poseur: Bodily Expansiveness Does Not Matter in Dyadic Interactions."

     II. A special issue of our journal Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology on the topic of Power Poses has now been published. This issue contains seven manuscripts, all preregistered and all peer-reviewed (including reviewed by Dana Carney herself), replicating and extending past work on Power Poses. None of the preregistered tests showed positive effects of Power Poses.

     See the special issue webpage for Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology for copies of these outstanding manuscripts.

Across our studies in SPPS and the studies in the CRSP Special Issue, we found consistent effects of Power Poses on subjective feelings of power. That is, participants reported feeling more powerful after holding expansive poses. Three important points should be noted about this effect:

1. This effect is a manipulation check and is not a meaningful behavioral, cognitive, or physiological effect on its own. Indeed, in her 2015 publication Cuddy classified this measure as a manipulation check and downplayed its importance, stating "power posing has a weak impact on self-reported feelings of power despite its stronger effects on cognitive and behavioral outcomes."

2. It is not clear whether self-reported felt power is anything beyond a demand characteristic reported by participants who know that holding a CEO pose and putting one's feet on the desk is supposed to indicate power. Indeed, some findings from the overall meta-analysis by Gronau et al. in the CRSP special issue suggest this might be the case.

3. Feeling powerful is not itself necessarily good. Indeed, it may be actively harmful if feeling confident causes people to "spin their wheels" in an unproductive way at tasks that are beyond their abilities. More important, there is no evidence yet that feeling powerful translates to positive behavioral outcomes. Such evidence is desperately needed if researchers are to continue advocating Power Poses for the powerless.  

Our two new additions to the literature join a growing and more persuasive body of existing data questioning the claims made by Power Pose advocates. In our view, there is currently little reason to continue to believe that holding an expansive pose for 2 minutes will meaningfully affect anyone's life.

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cesario [at] msu.edu

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants 1230281 and 1756092. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

 

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Michigan State University.