Power posing may be all in your head, researcher says

You’re likely familiar with the concept of power posing, especially if you’re a woman. A 2012 TED Talk on power posing (based on her original 2010 study) by social psychologist Amy Cuddy has been viewed more than 54 million times and a book on the same subject, also by Cuddy, was a New York Times bestseller.

Cuddy popularized the concept of faking confidence ’til you made it through striking powerful body postures, and it soon became the norm for people to do Wonder Woman poses in the bathroom before job interviews and reporting feeling increased power afterward.

But this may be all in your head, says Iowa State University researcher Marcus Credé, an associate professor of psychology. Credé says there isn’t one study in existence that reinforces the claim that power posing works on a physiological level.

Not so powerful

This reckoning has been a long time coming; the New York Times Magazine wrote in a 2017 profile on Cuddy, who was one of the authors of the original 2010 “power pose” study, “Since 2011, a methodological reform movement has been rattling the field, raising the possibility that vast amounts of research, even entire subfields, might be unreliable. Up-and-coming psychologists… opening questioning the work their  colleagues conducted under a now-outdated set of assumptions.” In other words, Cuddy’s work (and work like hers) has been increasingly held to new standards of evidence due to changes in her field when it comes to methodology and replication.

Back to Credé, who says the original 2010 study was criticized because its results couldn’t be replicated. In 2018, the researchers responded with an updated analysis of their work, as well as analysis of other studies on power posing.

However, Credé, in a new commentary published by the open-access journal Meta-Psychology, reviewed every study on power posing – nearly 40 – as well as analysis of the work the original researchers provided.

The flaw he found in nearly all 40 of the studies was that they didn’t compare power poses to normal, neutral poses, like standing – only to “contractive” poses, like slouching, or “low-power” poses. Not having a neutral pose could skew the results, he said.

“There has literally never been a study that compared a power pose to a normal pose and found any positive effect for a power pose,” Credé said. “I find this pretty stunning because of the multimillion-dollar industry that has been built up around power posing. It is not dissimilar to a drug being sold to the public without a single study ever having been able to show that the drug works better than placebo or doing nothing.”

Credé said that the only evidence that could correctly be drawn from the research he studied was that slouching should be avoided.

Below, the TED talk on power posing.