By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
If you would like more confidence, and if you've seen Amy Cuddy's widely-viewed TED talk, then maybe you've tried the "power pose." Legs apart, head straight and tall, hands on hips or arms raised above your head -- it is a posture we often see people naturally adopt after winning a victory of some kind. If you take Cuddy's advice on face-value, then it isn't just a natural reaction, it can be a strategy. According to a perspective called, "embodied cognition," our mental states respond to our physical postures, and a power pose can cause chemical changes (increased testosterone and cortisol) as well as a temporary feeling of physical and psychological strength. This can in turn cause changes in behavior and risk-taking, as well as improved performance. That perspective, along with a study from a few years back (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010), led to the advice that we should be using the power pose as a kind of confidence hack before interviews or other challenging tasks. At the peak of this passion for the power-pose, I could imagine attorneys trying a power pose in the elevator or a quiet hallway prior to openings, closings, or a tough examination.
But all of that excitement came prior to the realization that the social science it was all based on suffered from one little problem: It could not be replicated. Recent research adds to the weight of evidence against the idea. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (Smith and Apicella, 2016) tested the effects of power posing for winners and losers in a contest and found no main effects for testosterone, cortisol, feelings of power, risk taking, or performance. There was some indication, even, of a reduction in testosterone in some who had power posed prior to losing their contest. As lead author Kristopher Smith said in a ScienceDaily release, "people might not be able to 'fake it until they make it,' and in fact it might be detrimental." This study joins a number of other studies failing to reproduce the benefits of power posing (e.g., see Ranehill et al., 2015 and research discussed in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "When Big Ideas Go Bad"). For persuaders in the legal arena, the slumping of the power pose carries both real and metaphoric significance. Realistically, it means that power posing isn't necessarily a reliable way to prop up the under confident witness or attorney. But metaphorically, I think there are examples of other "power poses" out there: postures or stances that are meant to convey certainty and authority, but which have no real grounding and are more apparent than real. In this post, I'll take a look at three such poses.