Body language shapes how others see us but does it also change how we feel about ourselves? Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, explains in her landmark research, how standing in a confident, powerful manner, even when we don’t feel confident, can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and can have a direct impact on our chances of success.
What is powerful body language?
In humans and all animal species, postures that are expansive, open and take up space are associated with high power and dominance. Postures that contract, with limbs crossed protecting vital organs and take up minimal space are associated with low power. For example, animals that are prey will make themselves as small as possible.
Amy Cuddy showing the typical "power pose" used in her research
The impetus for Cuddy’s research came from a breakthrough in primatology. In primates, powerful postures also correlate with testosterone and cortisol levels. Expansive, high-power postures produce, in both sexes, high testosterone, a hormone that creates feelings of dominance and power, and low levels of cortisol a hormone that produces stress. Interestingly, this endocrine profile is also associated with disease resistance as high cortisol and low testosterone makes you very susceptible to illness.
Until recently, primatologists, believed that the dominant creatures in their groups had inherited high-power neuroendocrine profiles. However, it was found that those hormone levels change when you take on the dominant role. Primates that were forced to take on the dominant role, due to death of the previous leader, saw their testosterone and cortisol levels change, in just a few days. Likewise, primates that were pushed to the bottom also had drastic differences in their neuroendocrine profiles.
A study carried out by Cuddy, Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap measured the hormone levels of 42 male and female research subjects. These subjects were then asked to stand in two high-power or low-power poses for a minute per pose and had their hormone levels re-measured 17 minutes later. They also offered subjects a chance to gamble, rolling dice to double a $2 stake. The results were significant. A mere two minutes in high- or low-power poses caused testosterone to rise and cortisol to decrease and visa versa. Those in high-power stances were also more likely to gamble, enacting a trait (risk taking) associated with dominant individuals. Importantly they also reported feeling more powerful.
This same study was then carried out again but after low or high power posing the subjects were asked to sit a mock job interview. The candidates that had enacted the powerful poses were selected as the most competent candidates.
What does it mean for you and your job interview?
Humans perceive competence in others when they see confidence or power. The candidates that were asked to stand in powerful poses reported feeling more powerful themselves. This powerful feeling was communicated to recruiters, who then deemed these people as the most competent for the role.
Cuddy advises doing two minutes of “power posing” before a job interview as it directly increases your chance of being selected. No matter how silly you might initially feel, results show that after you powerfully pose you will feel more confident and have a better chance of success.
It has been noted that women often tend to take up low power poses in business and social settings. Cuddy advises women to take up more space, not to wrap/twist legs up, as this stance has a direct affect on your mindset. Even if you don’t feel powerful “fake it until you make it” Cuddy advises, as you will eventually feel the powerful rush, as you are changing your neuroendocrine profiles.
You can find out more about Cuddy's research at http://amycuddy.com/research/