By Peter M. Vishton, PhD, William & Mary
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Do interviews give you butterflies in your stomach? Thankfully, there’s an easy way to prepare that doesn’t involve hours of practice. Professor Vishton shares some simple, research-backed tips.
“Boss” Power Pose
Amy Cuddy, an American social psychologist, has proposed that your body language can shape your emotions. Specifically, standing in what she refers to as a power pose can enhance your confidence and even change how others perceive you. In several classic studies performed by Cuddy’s research group, and since replicated by several other researchers, participants were randomly assigned to three experimental groups.
One group spent several minutes standing in power poses. One pose was the “Wonder Woman” pose, which involves standing with your shoulders back and spread apart, your legs spaced apart, and your head facing forward. Another pose involves leaning forward across a table—imagine a boss telling his underlings what to do.
You should try this pose now. Spread your legs apart, taking up as much space as you can. Lean forward into the table, and put your weight on your hands. Be as big as possible.
A second experimental group spent several minutes adopting a non-dominant pose: shoulder hunching, leg crossing, arm crossing, and head ducking. A third experimental group did none of these things.
How Poses Impact Performance
After they had spent several minutes in one of these three pose conditions, the participants were then placed in a stressful situation. In one set of the studies, the participants participated in a simulated job interview.
The person conducting that interview was instructed to respond with a very flat and non-encouraging affect throughout. The interviewer also sought to be as critical as possible about the participants’ qualifications.
The power pose manipulation had two striking effects. The first, in a sense, is the most important. Participants in the power pose condition performed better.
The interviewers weren’t told which experimental condition any given participant was in—what poses they had been practicing, for example—but they tended to evaluate those power posers more highly. The non-dominant posers were rated significantly lower.
Related work has found that power posers are also more confident in general. They are more comfortable with taking risks and tend to predict better outcomes for those risks.
Power Poses and Hormones
A second effect, however, was even more striking. After completing the stressful task, the participants would provide a saliva sample; they would spit into a cup.
The experimenters found that the power posers had lower concentrations of cortisol—that stress-related hormone. Power posers also had greater concentrations of testosterone in their bodies.
Testosterone is a hormone strongly associated with confident, dominant performance. Just standing in a strong, confident pose changed the confidence level and the assertiveness of people; it also altered the very nature of the body’s stress response.
“The tip is really clear here,” Professor Vishton said. “When you prepare to engage in some high-stress task—maybe a job interview, maybe a speech where you want people to be impressed, maybe even a tennis game—you should spend a few minutes standing in a power pose.”
Evidence suggests that a power pose will improve your attitude and performance, and you’ll respond better to stressful situations. You will tend to remain engaged with the challenge rather than shrinking from it. In this case, it seems that your brain is taking cues from your body.
“I imagine some stress computation system looking out at your body from inside your skull,” Professor Vishton said. “‘Wow, he’s acting really confident. I guess, I must be confident. Let’s engage the rest of the subsystems to match it.’ The thought process undoubtedly goes through the cerebrum here, but critical information processing takes place outside the skull, resulting in our embodied cognition.”
This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.
Peter M. Vishton is an Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary. He earned his PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation.