Power poses – do they help confidence?

Oprah Winfrey and Mick Jagger displaying typical power poses

Oprah Winfrey and Mick Jagger displaying typical power poses

Earlier this week I stumbled across a TED talk by Amy Cuddy.   Amy is an associate professor at Harvard Business School and a social psychologist who does a lot of work on body language.  The talk I watched was about ‘power poses’.  Amy and her collaborators showed that if people held a power pose, like those illustrated above, for 2 minutes  testosterone levels increased and cortisol levels decreased (Carney et al, 2010).  This is important as testosterone is shown to be associated with feelings of power and cortisol with stress.  This means taking on a short power pose can make you feel more powerful and less stressed!

This got me thinking about how this could be applied in a careers context.  Can it help you perform better at interview (some research Amy has done says yes it can), give a more confident presentation, and even network more effectively at conferences?  These are all areas that PhD students I’ve worked with worry about or would like to improve in.

Some of what Amy said in her talk did resonate with me.  Sitting with arms crossed or hunched over (typical low power poses) does tend to make people look less confident but Amy’s research implies that it also makes them feel less confident.  I remember going to a training session on presentation skills a few years ago and the trainer suggested that before giving a presentation (or going to an interview) people should be going to a quiet spot to limber up by working the voice muscles and maybe even jumping up and down a little!  This was a technique commonly used by actors to improve their performance on stage.  What if we added power poses to that (in a quiet room or even in the bathroom!) before you have to present or talk to people at conferences?

You can view the talk here and make up your own mind.  Although there is more research to do I think it’s probably worth a go.  The worst that can happen is that you feel a little silly but at best you may gain that extra bit of confidence you want to improve your performance!

I’d love to hear what you think and even your experiences if you try it!

Carney, Dana R., Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap. “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.Psychological Science 21, no. 10 (October 2010): 1363–1368.

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