Dear America – no matter whether they are forces for good or flustered, petulant misanthropes, your politicians tend to be more charismatic than those in the UK. They tend to know how to handle a crowd and fire them up, whereas certain British lawmakers, including the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, are often somewhat more awkward.
Take last year’s Conservative Party conference, where a number of politicians took the odd decision to stand with their legs fairly far apart (see above for example), and sometimes with their hands on their hips, in front of the nation. It was cringeworthy enough at the time, but a number of psychologists have recently poured cold water over the idea that this so-called “power pose” is ever a good pose to strike, as picked up recently by The Independent.
It’s meant to assert dominance, to give people the impression that the power poser has higher levels of testosterone, and are also more likely to be brave and prone to risk-taking behavior. Professor Dana Carney of the University of California Berkeley, for one, thinks that there’s very little evidence to back this theory up.
Back in 2015, she wrote on her website: “I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of power poses. I do not think the effect is real.” She pointedly refers to a 2010 paper she authored with Amy Cuddy – an associate professor of social psychology at Harvard Business School – in which they then thought that the effect was genuine.
“The proud peacock fans his tail feathers in pursuit of a mate,” they write in their earlier study. “The chimpanzee, asserting his hierarchical rank, holds his breath until his chest bulges. The executive in the boardroom crests the table with his feet, fingers interlaced behind his neck, elbows pointing outward.”
Back then, their experiments seemed to reveal that “posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes.”
Nowadays, Carney is deeply skeptical of their original findings, and she thinks that the evidence behind the use of the power pose is so superfluous that she advises people not to waste their time even researching it. “I discourage others from studying power poses. I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore,” she concluded on her website.
For her part, Cuddy has given a TED talk on how bad an idea it is to strike power poses in official settings, particularly during work meetings. Instead of recognizing a person’s confidence, experiments show that it actually encourages viewers to avert their gazes.
“Commanding a room as though you were a silverback leaves little space, physically or emotionally, for anyone else,” Cuddy said at the time.
She doesn’t think that the power pose is in itself ineffective in all cases, though, noting that for the people doing the power poses themselves, they do seem to have increased testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels, meaning they feel more confident and risk-prone going into a situation.
Other studies disagree, noting that they cannot successfully replicate these results in their own experiments. Cuddy has yet to properly comment on Carney’s revelations.
Either way, unless you’re a superhero, these power poses do look a little daft. So if you do want to try and use them to boost your confidence, you should probably give them a go in private.