Can ‘Power Posing’ change your life?

Can simply standing in a powerful pose boost your confidence? Back in 2010 psychologist Amy Cuddy, along with colleagues Dana Carney and Andy Yap, claimed that it could (Carney, 2010). There was considerable media excitement, especially after Cuddy delivered a hugely popular TED talk. But subsequent research didn’t replicate the original findings, and suddenly power posing didn’t look cool any more. Dana Carney, the lead author of the original article, abandoned the theory in 2016, announcing that “the evidence against the existence of power poses is undeniable“.

But Cuddy is back with updated research claiming that power posing does have a significant positive impact on “mood and evaluations, attitudes, and feelings about the self” (Cuddy et. al. 2018).

All this is important for several reasons. First, it’s a classic example of how scientific research should work: There’s a claim, it’s tested, refuted and then further research revisits the data. More interesting is how the original research impacted on the public. The media loved Cuddy’s TED talk, with big players like CBS and the New York Times making much of her claims: Sexy science sells. There was much less public reporting when the scientific backlash came and of course now the story is even more complicated!

Man in Power Pose

The author conducts an early Power Posing experiment (c. 1980)

So does power posing work? It probably doesn’t have an impact on behavior: Doing a power pose before you go in for that scary interview won’t enhance your confidence. But a power pose will, on current evidence at least, have a positive influence on your emotional state.

Power posing is a lively topic of discussion amongst trainers and therapists who are interested in embodiment and the body. Power posing is closely related to the work of embodiment trainers like Mark Walsh and Francis Briers. It’s also in line with the kind of embodied therapy that I practice: How a client is sitting, standing, moving or walking says a lot about how they are experiencing their place in the world.

Power posing, embodied training and embodied therapy are all grounded in embodied cognition, the principle that thinking and feeling depend on the body as well as the brain (Robbins and Aydede). Embodied cognition is well supported by cognitive neuroscience and supports the ideas of Merleau-Ponty, Gendlin, Bateson and others who argue that “the body shapes the mind” (Gallagher). Power posing may not change your life, but a better understanding of embodied cognition just might, so keep reading!

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