Sitting upright is psychologically good for men, but is it good for women?

Stop slouching! Sitting with an upright posture can have a positive effect on your mood and improve your performance at a maths test, but only if you are male. That’s the implication of a study by Tomi-Ann Roberts and Yousef ArefiAfshar at Colorado College in America.

Sixty undergrads completed an intelligence test before being asked to assume either a slumped or upright posture for three minutes. During this time they were given fictitious feedback on the intelligence test, indicating they had scored in the top 25 per cent of all previous test takers. Returning to their natural posture, they then completed mood questionnaires and a maths test.

Among the men, those who’d been instructed to sit upright subsequently scored better at the maths test, reported being in a more positive mood, and being happier with their intelligence test performance, than did the men who’d been told to sit slumped.

The opposite pattern was true among the women – those who’d been in a slumped position were happier with their IQ test performance and did better at the later maths test, than did the women who’d sat upright.

Why the gender difference? The researchers speculated that because of the gendered culture we live in, the women may have felt more natural in slumped position which is associated with lower status. Also, they said the act of sitting upright and pushing their chests forward may have made the women, but not the men, feel self-conscious.

The idea that our posture can affect our emotions is consistent with other research showing that pulling various facial expressions can alter our mood – for example smiling can make us feel happier (link is to pdf).

Roberts, T-A. & ArefiAfshar, Y. (2007). Not all who stand tall are proud: Gender differences in the proprioceptive effects of upright posture. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 714-727.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.