Neuroeconomics: Prime Yourself with a Power Pose to Generate Testosterone
We were reading Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay recently, when we came across a section discussing a fascinating study related to the author by Dana Carney of Berkeley that she conducted with Amy Cuddy of Harvard and Andy Yap of Columbia. From the book:
“They had forty-two student assume what she calls high-power and low-power poses. High-power is either the “I’ve got it made” pose [leaning back in the chair, with hands behind your head, with feet propped up on the table]…or a pose standing up with legs spread and hands forward on a table. Low-power is either sitting with hands in lap and shoulders hunched or standing slumped with arms crossed. The students were told to hold each of these poses for sixty seconds.
The researchers took saliva samples before and after the poses to measure biological changes in testosterone (a hormone associated with dominance and status) and cortisol (a hormone associated with stress and weakness). The relative differences were remarkable. The high-power posing students had significantly more testosterone and less cortisol…Just by high-power posing we can increase the flow of testosterone to make us act stronger or more dominant. Alternatively, if we are worried about being too aggressive, we can add some cortisol by slumping. We can adjust our hormonal levels in either direction before an important meeting or presentation.
Because these hormonal changes persist over time – for at least seventeen minutes according to Carney – we can pose earlier, in private, and still benefit from the jolt of testosterone later one. Look at boxers in their locker rooms before a fight. They are power posing in the extreme, loading their bodies with testosterone before they enter the ring. We might prepare for work in the same way, in a boardroom instead of a locker room. Just stand at the table, arms extended and legs spread, leaning forward – and wait for the hormones to flow.”
We were curious to learn more, and therefore followed up with a review of a follow-on paper, by Amy Cuddy, Caroline Wilmuth, and Dana Carney, called “the Benefit of Power Posing Before a High Stakes Social Evaluation” (a copy is here: http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/9547823/13-027.pdf?sequence=1).
Subjects did power poses, followed by mock interviews, which were then evaluated by experienced evaluators based on 1) overall performance, 2) hireability, 3) speeach quality, and 4) presentation quality (see the paper for details about how the study was set up). The judges rated high-power posers significantly higher along all four dimensions. Power posing subjects also self-reported higher feelings of being dominant, in control and powerful. The study adds, “Preparatory power posing might serve as a simple, free tool that has the potential to be adopted by, and beneficial to almost anyone.”
Certainly, this is a powerful tool that could be usefully applied by many of our readers. We might add a note of caution. We have written previously about the endocrine system, and the effects of testosterone and cortisol on risk-seeking behavior (see: http://blog.alphaarchitect.com/2011/10/neuroeconomics-post-the-endocrine-system-and-shifting-risk-preferences/). Clearly, power poses can shape our behavior and appetite for risk, so be sensitive to the environments in which you use them.
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