Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Right Pose Influences More Than the Eye Sees

Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand
Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At Last (Lynda Carter album)
At Last (Lynda Carter album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watch celebrities on the red carpet, or models on a runaway, and you’ll undoubtedly see the classic stop-for-the-flashing-cameras stance: chest open, legs apart, head level, usually with a hand on the hip.

It turns out that this pose not only best shows off what they are wearing, but it also might send reassuring signals to their brains that they are capable and competent.

Social-science research over the last three years indicates such expansive postures release a flood of hormones that makes a person feel more positive and at ease, even if they were full of self-doubt beforehand.

The idea that posture is indicative of mental state is not new. Philosophers from Descartes to Ayn Rand wrote about the interplay between psychological and physical bearing. But the latest research suggests posture may precipitate, rather than just reflect, emotions.

Or, the studies found that how people carry themselves can actually change their mood, which greatly affects how they approach situations and solve problems, as well as how attractive they appear to others.

“Poses are powerful,” said Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and an associate professor at Harvard Business School. With colleagues, she has, through a series of controlled experiments, shown that assuming an expansive pose (think Wonder Woman with legs planted apart and hands on her hips) for two minutes will increase testosterone and lower cortisol in the bloodstream.

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Her research builds on other studies published since 2010. One showed recovering alcoholics were less likely to relapse if they had an expansive versus a slouched posture. Another showed that subjects made to assume erect, open postures were more likely to take the initiative or risks in tasks compared with others who were forced into closed and constricted postures. An expansive stance was also shown to increase pain tolerance.

So how long do the effects of a power pose last? Researchers say that the hormonal changes persist for at least 15 to 20 minutes. But Dana Carney, a social psychologist who studies power dynamics and posture at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “It could start a physiological cascade that lasts all day.”

This is a good thing, because there are situations where the pose is not welcome. “Like a job interview where puffing your chest wouldn’t be appropriate, you can stretch expansively beforehand – on the train, in the elevator, in the waiting room,” Dr. Carney said.

To look and perform your best, academic and image experts recommend a two-minute power pose before any stressful situation. During the event, keep an expansive posture with your chest open, but not puffed, and keep your head level or slightly raised. Don’t slouch or otherwise fold into yourself or make yourself smaller. Avoid touching your neck, crossing your arms over your chest or grasping the elbow of your opposite arm hanging at your side.

“It’s about becoming so comfortable and feeling you have so much control over how you present yourself that you become more your authentic self,” said Dr. Cuddy. “It’s about quieting all those voices that say ‘I don’t belong.’”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, July 6, 2013