UPDATE OCTOBER 2017: The science of power poses is one of ongoing study. Please check our update on Amy Cuddy’s talk for the latest research in this area of science.
There’s one very important thing that everyone should do before heading into a job interview, giving a big speech or attempting an athletic feat. According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, everyone should spend two minutes power posing. What, you ask, is power posing? It is adopting the stances associated with confidence, power and achievement — chest lifted, head held high, arms either up or propped on the hips.
As Cuddy explains in this talk from TEDGlobal 2012, both humans and animals express power through their bodies. They tumble in on themselves when they feel unsure, making themselves smaller by hunching over, crossing their arms over their chest and avoiding big movements. When they feel on top of the world, they sprawl out. Cuddy wondered—could adopting these postures change a person’s internal state and make them feel more powerful?
Cuddy, along with her collaborator Dana Carney of Berkeley, ran an experiment in which people were directed to adopt either high-power or low-power poses for two minutes. Then they were asked if they wanted to gamble. Cuddy and Carney found that 86% of those who posed in the high-power position opted to gamble, while only 60% of the low-power posers felt comfortable taking a roll of the dice. But even more interesting — there were physiological differences between the two groups, as shown by saliva samples. While high-power posers showed an 8% increase in testosterone, low-power posers had a 10% decrease in the hormone. Meanwhile, the inverse relationship happened with cortisol, the hormone related to stress. While high-power posers experienced a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, low-power posers had a 15% increase in their stress levels.
“Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds,” says Cuddy.
To hear Cuddy’s powerful story of how power posing helped her get her own life on track, watch her talk. Below, hear stories of how power posing has worked for others, as told to Cuddy through emails and online comments.
From a male high school physics teacher in the United States:
“I introduced my AP Physics students to power posing last spring. One student in particular was always so nervous during assessments and therefore her test scores did not represent her abilities at all. We all know that old saying about correlation and causation — and this was no scientific study — but from that day forward that student power posed before every physics test and her grades went from high ‘C’s and low ‘B’s to where she belonged — in the mid to lower ‘A’s. I’m convinced that power posing helped her even if it is difficult to prove.”
From an online commenter:
“It’s nice to see that there’s scientific support for Oscar Hammerstein’s King and I lyrics: ‘Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid …The result of this deception is very strange to tell, for when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.’”
From a male musician in Canada:
“I tried your ‘power positions’ right before I went on stage with a symphony, and I have to say, it was the best performance I have had in terms of nerves in my life.”
From an online commenter:
“My dad used to do a lot of work over the phone. Great advice: You can hear a smile on the other end of the phone. He’d also often stand up tall over his desk when he was talking on the phone. Must have pumped up the confidence since I find myself doing the same.”
From actor Manish Dayal, star of The Hundred-Foot Journey:
“The biggest challenge for me was definitely the large span of time in the film. The film begins with [my character] Hassan as a young, carefree boy, and over the course of the film he grows to become an adult with major responsibilities. Being able to show that development involves an understanding of aging, of how speech and maturity evolve over a lifetime. My character’s stance and body language moves around throughout the film. Hopefully, Hassan’s body language shows where he is in the story. Power poses helped me show that evolution.” Read more about Manish’s story »
From a woman in finance in the United States:
“I power posed before my third interview for a job the other day! Moving onto fourth and final interview on Tuesday!!! I was seriously nervous and power posing calmed me down … Okay, there was a fifth interview today. I was freaking out, so while waiting I walked outside and power posed on the street. I can’t believe how much better I felt. And I did really well on the interview.”
From an online commenter:
“I believe this has wide implications for classroom teachers. Early in the school year, students note a teacher’s verbal and nonverbal language to determine if they can seize the power and authority from him/her. A teacher’s body language and voice must beam: ‘I have faith in me and I have faith in my ability to teach you. I have high standards and expectations.’”
Want to know more? Read about Cuddy’s latest research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which shows that leaders tend to have lower cortisol levels. As Cuddy explains to the U.S. News and World Report, this relationship is mediated by their overall sense of having control over their lives, from the mundane to the significant.