researchers know that our nonverbal behaviors have enormous effects on how others perceive us and respond to us. Professor Cuddy’s angle is a little different — she is interested in how our body language affects ourselves.
Apparently, when research volunteers assumed power poses for as little as 2 minutes, they had significant increases in testosterone and decreases in cortisol. Why is this desirable? According to Cuddy, “Our lab at Harvard suggests that the best leaders — both male and female — seem to have relatively high testosterone, which is linked to decreased fear and increased tolerance for risk and desire to compete.” Cortisol is associated with fear and stress, and has long been documented to be detrimental to us in high doses.
Cuddy’s findings suggest that power posturing may help us to feel more powerful and perform well in the face of stressful events such as job interviews, public performances, and situations where we must compete or assert ourselves. Acting confident seems to manifest confidence. (Reminds me of Paul Ekman’s work on microexpressions and the effects of facial expression on emotions.)
Which leads me to wonder: Could power posturing play a role in the treatment of depression and anxiety? When we are depressed, we rarely assume big, open postures with heads up and good eye contact. On the contrary, we often turn away from others, hang our heads, assume the fetal position. Anxious folks commonly cross their arms tightly over their chests, pull their shoulders up to their ears, and tighten their muscles. What would happen if people chronically overwhelmed with fear and helplessness regularly assumed poses that conveyed just the opposite (even if only in private)? Anyone want to take the challenge?
A great article summarizes and comments upon Cuddy’s research, with photos illustrating the “high-power” poses and “low-power” poses, as well as photos of animals instinctively power posing in nature. Notice how the low power poses mirror the body language of people in distress.
Maysie Tift is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Master Hypnotist with offices in San Rafael, CA and San Francisco, CA.