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Your body language can communicate a lot of information to other people, but can striking a power pose revolutionize your life?

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Sources:
Carney, Cuddy, & Yap (2010). Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 136-138. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20855902
Ranehill et al (2015). Assessing the robustness of power posing: No effect on hormones and risk tolerance in a large sample of men and women. Psychological Science, 26, 653-656. http://datacolada.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/5110-Ranehill-Dreber-Johannesson-Leiberg-Sul-Weber-PS-2015-Assessing-the-robustness-of-power-posing-no-effect-on-hormones-and-risk-rolerance-in-a-large-sample-of-men-and-women.pdf
Smith & Apicella (2017). Winners, losers, and posers: The effect of power poses on testosterone and risk-taking following competition. Hormones and Behavior, 92, 172-181. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0018506X1630023X?via%3Dihub
Dr. Carney’s statement on the controversy: http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/dana_carney/pdf_my%20position%20on%20power%20poses.pdf
Dr. Cuddy’s statements on the critiques: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/09/read-amy-cuddys-response-to-power-posing-critiques.html
http://ideas.ted.com/inside-the-debate-about-power-posing-a-q-a-with-amy-cuddy/
Special journal issue on power poses: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23743603.2017.1309876
Summary: Power poses – where do we stand? http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23743603.2017.1342447?scroll=top&needAccess=true
“This Simple 'Power Pose' Can Change Your Life And Career” from Business Insider (May 3, 2013) http://www.businessinsider.com/power-pose-2013-5
It’s pretty well known that nonverbal behavior, like body language or facial expressions, can pass on information to other people.

Like, a thumbs up for “good job” or crossed arms and a frown to say, “I’m unhappy.” But can striking a powerful pose like Wonder Woman actually make you more powerful? Okay, well, everyone knows there’s no magical stance to unlock super speed or flight or anything.

But it turns out researchers don’t agree on what a power pose does do, and it’s turned into a bit of a controversy. It started in 2010, when a study was published by researchers at Columbia University. They suggested that holding a powerful pose for a few minutes could do some pretty amazing things, changing people’s thoughts, actions, and even their hormones.

This news was shared online and offline, everywhere from business to healthcare, with headlines like, “This Simple 'Power Pose' Can Change Your Life And Career.” It turned into a pretty big thing. But here’s the deal: that study has come under fire by other scientists. The study had 42 people briefly hold two poses that were either expansive, which opened up the body and were considered powerful.

Or constrictive, which closed the body and were considered submissive. This short little posing session was enough to raise testosterone and lower cortisol, a stress-related hormone, which researchers measured in people’s saliva. It also increased risk-taking in a gambling task, and increased people’s sense of power.

In other words, it made people think and act like they had more power, and even changed hormones that go along with that. According to the researchers and some people, this meant that striking a pose for a minute might make you more confident and assertive, help you ace a job interview, or lower your stress. Which sounds pretty darn powerful, right?

But other scientists were skeptical of the results, which is a good thing in science, especially when a small study claims such big things. Sometimes, just by chance, a study will find effects much bigger than they really are, and this risk goes up when you have a small study. This doesn’t mean the researchers did something wrong, it just happens sometimes.

Researchers did have some specific concerns about this study too, like some statistical analysis choices or the fact that winning the gambling task might’ve changed hormones, even if the power pose didn’t. So scientists set out to replicate the study, to see if they could reproduce any of the “life-changing” effects of striking a power pose. And some studies did find a mixed bag of benefits.

However, when researchers from the University of Zurich recruited a big sample of 200 people, and published a study in 2015, they didn’t find any hormone changes, or any differences in risk-taking behavior. Though people did say they felt more powerful after the power poses. Meanwhile, a study from the University of Pennsylvania published in 2017 also failed to find any differences when 247 men tried the different poses.

No testosterone differences, no behavioral differences, and no difference in feeling powerful. Many researchers from other institutions tried to reproduce the effects, too, adding their papers to a special collection published in the journal Comprehensive Results in Social. Psychology in 2017.

They failed to find differences in cortisol, testosterone, and risk taking behaviors, too. But they did sometimes find that people felt a little more powerful. So it seems like posing like Wonder Woman doesn’t actually do as much as that original study thought, if anything at all.

Some studies do find effects, but a lot don’t. Two of the original authors have weighed in on this controversy, too. One author, Dr.

Carney, says she no longer believes that power poses do anything and that the original study had various flaws. But her coauthor Dr. Cuddy says there might be other things that could explain why some studies find effects but others don’t.

For example, some studies make people do social things, like work on a task with partners, while others don’t. Since power is a social expression, she thinks this difference could matter, and recommends that people study it. But not all scientists are convinced, including Dr.

Carney. Dr. Cuddy also points out that while we don’t know whether hormones or behaviors are directly affected by power poses, there is evidence that people sometimes feel more powerful... which is not nothing.

Feeling powerful could have effects like boosting confidence or making you more assertive. But we do need more research to fully understand what’s going on here, psychologically. So where does this leave us?

Power poses are a great example of science in action, and a good warning not to read too deeply into a flashy new discovery until it’s been well tested. Body language can definitely communicate lots of things to other people. But as for how standing like a superhero affects the poser… if you feel more powerful, that’s great for you and might be helpful!

But maybe don’t count on power poses to revolutionize your life. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych, which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you’d like to help us make more episodes like this, you can go to patreon.com/scishow.

And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishowpsych and subscribe!