By Emma Young
Does power posing – such as standing with your hands on your hips and your feet spaced well apart – really help to improve your life?
Yes – according to Amy Cuddy, one of the pioneers of the idea, at Harvard University (famous for her massively popular TED talk on the subject and her best-selling book Presence). No – according to a critical analysis by Joseph Simmons and Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania, published in Psychological Science in 2017. The pair’s statistical analysis of 33 previous studies of potential posture effects led them to a damning conclusion: “the existing evidence is too weak to… advocate for people to engage in power posing to better their lives.”
But now Cuddy, and colleagues, are back, with a new paper also published in Psychological Science. While Cuddy appears to be softening her claims about what power-posing can achieve, she and her colleagues argue that their new analysis shows that there is strong evidence that posture affects emotions in particular, and that power-posing is likely to have a meaningful impact on people, and should not be discounted.
The new paper involves the same type of statistical analysis (called a p-curve analysis) adopted by Simmons and Simonsohn, which uses the distribution of “p values” to estimate the likelihood of falsely positive results in a given set of studies. But whereas Simmons and Simonsohn used this technique to analyse 33 published studies that Cuddy and others had highlighted in a 2015 paper, the new analysis was performed on every single peer-reviewed study in the field that Cuddy and her colleagues could find. This literature search added 21 studies to the total. In the new analysis, the researchers also looked specifically at potential effects of posture on feelings of power, which Simmons and Simonsohn did not.
This new analysis provides clear evidence, Cuddy’s team argue, that people who adopt open, expansive, “power” poses do feel more powerful. And “feeling powerful is an intrinsically consequential, theoretically important, fundamental outcome,” they write. “We believe that even transient feelings of power can have long-lasting consequences for people’s lives.”
They say their new work also provides “very strong” evidence that expansive vs. contractive (such as self-hugging) postures have other emotion-related effects, including affecting participants’ recall of positive vs. negative memories, their self-evaluations, their specific emotional state, and their ability to recover from a negative mood.
But what about impacts of power posing on actual behaviour?
Claims that power posing can change the way people behave – affecting their willingness to take risks or how they perform in a job interview, for example – are not supported by the new analysis, nor for that matter were they supported by a recent series of papers that failed to replicate previous work that had found power posing alters behaviour.
However, Cuddy and her colleagues argue that “there is a need for experimental tests of incremental or longitudinal effects of adopting expansive postures over time on various outcomes,” adding that “Right now, we are not aware of any such research”.
Ideas about what power-posing can, and can’t, do are clearly being refined. And will no doubt continue to be refined, as more studies are published – something that this new work perhaps makes more likely.
In their 2017 paper, Simmons and Simonsohn questioned the justification for spending “valuable resources” on research into power posing. In the conclusion to the new paper, Cuddy and her co-authors write: “Our findings…should encourage researchers who are investigating this area to continue to do so.”