Let’s do a quick exercise together. If you’re sitting at a desk, put your feet up. Lean back, stretch yourself out. Clasp your hands behind your head and try to take up as much space as you can. You’re a starfish. The President of the United States. A rock star.
Feeling more powerful? Well, according to a new study it just might.
Amy C.J. Cuddy, a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School, recently found that striking particular physical poses can alter your hormone levels, making you feel more powerful and likely to take risks. Her research is based on the assumption that the communication between mind and body isn’t a one-way street. (It’s a field of psychology called embodiment.) It follows the same logic that says smiling for a minute—no matter how upset you are—can make you happier. In essence, the positioning of your body may be able to send orders to your brain to cause emotional highs or lows.
“These power poses are deeply intertwined with the evolutionary selection of what is ‘alpha,’” said the researchers in Psychological Science.
It makes sense. “High power” poses open up the body to take up space in the same way that peacocks fan their tails out or bears rear up on their hind legs (or my cat puffs up like a maniac when it’s angry) to assert dominance.
In their study, participants were isolated and randomly assigned to strike either high power positions, like the one described above, or low power positions like sitting with arms folded and legs crossed. Participants held the positions for one minute and were then handed $2 and given the choice to either keep it or gamble it, double or nothing, on a roll of a die. They were also asked to fill out a survey to determine how “powerful” they felt.
Results showed that the people in high power poses reported feeling more in charge and were far more likely to gamble (86%) versus those who’d held low power poses (60%). Researchers also noted that being in the high power positions raised testosterone levels, which indicate raised aggression.
(Incidentally, testosterone levels played a role in an older study that identified the universal pose for victory. V is for champion!)
The researchers do have a caveat: “Don’t walk into a job interview and begin taking power poses,” said researcher Dana Carney. Instead, use the poses to prepare your system before an interview, business meeting or other stressful event.
Or before you embark on a Rocky training montage…