Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. But can these postures actually cause power? The results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.Here are some clips from the context and data the authors provide:
In research on embodied cognition, evidence suggests that bodily movements, such as facial displays, can affect emotional states. For example, unobtrusive contraction of the “smile muscle” (i.e., the zygomaticus major) increases enjoyment, the head tilting upward induces pride, and hunched postures (as opposed to upright postures) elicit more depressed feelings. Approach-oriented behaviors, such as touching, pulling, or nodding “yes,” increase preference for objects, people, and persuasive messages…no research has tested whether expansive power poses, in comparison with contractive power poses, cause mental, physiological, and behavioral change in a manner consistent with the effects of power.Here are the basic results:
In humans and other animals, testosterone levels both reflect and reinforce dispositional and situational status and dominance; internal and external cues cause testosterone to rise, increasing dominant behaviors, and these behaviors can elevate testosterone even further…testosterone levels, by reflecting and reinforcing dominance, are closely linked to adaptive responses to challenges.
Power holders show lower basal cortisol levels and lower cortisol reactivity to stressors than powerless people do, and cortisol drops as power is achieved. Although short-term and acute cortisol elevation is part of an adaptive response to challenges large (e.g., a predator) and small (e.g., waking up), the chronically elevated cortisol levels seen in low-power individuals are associated with negative health consequences, such as impaired immune functioning, hypertension, and memory loss.
Salivary cortisol and testosterone levels were within a normal range of ~ 0.16 μg/dl and ~60 pg/ml both before and after participants held either two high-power or two low-power poses for 1 min each. The figure shows the changes caused by the two postures (click to enlarge). The experiment is missing what would seem to be one obvious control: measurements on subjects who were given an instruction to assume an arbitrary posture unrelated to power.