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Powerful Posturing

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Study co-authored by Columbia and Harvard faculty finds that a simple posture change transforms hormone levels in a matter of minutes – and literally makes people more powerful

Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and powerlessness through closed, constrictive postures. Forthcoming in Psychological Science will be a paper that reveals how open postures can actually cause one to grow in confidence and power.

In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” by coauthors Dana Carney, a professor in the management division at Columbia Business School, Amy Cuddy, a professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School and Andy Yap, a PhD student in the Management Division of Columbia Business School, the researchers found that merely adopting the poses used by powerful people, such as putting hands behind one’s head and feet up on the desk like the stereotype of the nonchalant CEO, changes an individual’s neuroendocrine makeup and behavior.

The study reveals that posing in high-power (vs. low-power) nonverbal displays caused 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, adopting powerful postures allowed subjects to prepare for stressful situations and confidently take risks due to psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes – and not due to a placebo effect or a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The proof that a person can, via a simple two-minute pose, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world implications in a variety of fields and situations – such as athletic performance, courtroom arguments, networking and job interviews, efforts to instill more women executives in Fortune 500 corporations and the universal challenge of public speaking. Now there is evidence that power positioning is not effective because it heightens others’ awareness of an individual – instead, power positioning allows an individual to prepare for a challenge on a neuroendocrine level, and gives him or her the ability to excel in decision-making and naturally gain power.