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Do 'power poses' really boost your confidence? Effects aren't real, author says

We were told that striking a "power pose" could help change our lives. But there's a problem.
/ Source: TODAY

Those “power poses” you’ve been advised to strike to boost your confidence before a job interview or other high pressure situations may not be so powerful after all.

Dana Carney — one of the authors of an attention-getting 2010 study that found people who spread their limbs and arranged their bodies to occupy more space actually felt more powerful on a hormonal level after a couple of minutes — now says she does not believe that “power pose” effects are real.

“Reasonable and respected people may disagree with my opinion, but as new evidence came in, I merely updated my beliefs,” Carney, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told TODAY in an email.

She advised against doing more research on the topic, “which I now think is a waste of time and resources,” Carney wrote in a letter she recently posted on her website.

Related: 4 body language mistakes successful people never make

The 2010 study essentially found acting like an “alpha” helped people feel like one. Subjects who struck dominant poses — like standing with their hands on their hips à la “Wonder Woman” or leaning back in a chair with their feet on the table — boosted their levels of testosterone, reduced their levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and showed more risk tolerance and feelings of power, the authors said.

Example of a "power pose."Shutterstock
Example of a "power pose."Shutterstock

But Carney now says the sample size was “tiny,” the data was “flimsy” and the “effects are small and barely there in many cases.”

The original findings went viral after Amy Cuddy, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at Harvard Business School, gave a TED Talk on the subject in 2012. The video has been viewed more than 46 million times on TED’s website and YouTube.

“I want to start by offering you a free no-tech life hack, and all it requires of you is this: that you change your posture for two minutes,” Cuddy told the audience. “Our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.”

Cuddy also appeared on TODAY this summer to share her body language philosophy. She did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the new questions surrounding the study.

Related: The No. 1 body language mistake we make

Boost your 'perceived value'

If power poses don't alter our hormones, body language can still influence how we think — even if it's a placebo effect, communications expert Janine Driver said.

If you know certain gestures will boost your “perceived value” — how other people view you — you’ll feel more powerful.

“You can still change how you feel about yourself, even if the hormones aren’t affected,” noted Driver, CEO of the Body Language Institute and author of “You Say More Than You Think.”

“If people perceive you as confident, they’ll talk to you in a different way than if they think you’re nervous and insecure.”

Driver said confident body language moves include:

  • Steepling your hands (fingertips to fingertips).
  • Grabbing your chin.
  • Keeping your center body and what she calls power zones open: neck dimple, belly button, and “naughty bits” (groin area). Resist the urge to cover them with your hands.
  • The hands-on-hips "Wonder Woman" pose (though it can also be perceived as impatience).

“When you wake up this morning, out of everything you put on, the thing that will be judged the most is your body language,” Driver said.

“If you are sitting in a way that makes you feel more powerful — even if it’s not affecting your hormones — … doesn’t that matter? Of course it does.”

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