Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I might want to reconsider my posture.

by Brandon, This post originally appeared at the Future Science Leaders blog.
In 2010, Dr. Amy Cuddy and her colleagues conducted an experiment in to determine the effect of one’s posture on oneself.
Before placing people into certain positions, Cuddy et al. took saliva samples from their participants. Saliva samples can indicate the amount of hormones, chemicals related to behaviour, that a person produces.
There were two experimental conditions:
1. Expansive positions with open limbs.  
2. Contractive positions with closed limbs.
Half of the study’s participants adopted an expansive pose while the other half adopted a contractive pose. The researchers’ independent variable was the type of pose that a participant adopted.
After two minutes of posing, Cuddy et al. took saliva samples from the participants again and had participants self-report their feelings of power.
The researchers found significant differences between levels of cortisol, levels of testosterone, and feelings of power between the participants in the two conditions.
  • Participants who had adopted an expansive pose exhibited decreases in levels of cortisol and increases in levels of testosterone, whereas participants who had adopted a contractive pose exhibited increases in levels of cortisol and decreases in levels of testosterone.
  • Participants who had adopted an expansive pose self-reported a significantly larger amount of feelings of power than participants who had adopted a contractive pose.

The results involving cortisol and testosterone are particularly notable because cortisol is associated with stress and testosterone is associated with dominance. People who had adopted the expansive pose were therefore less likely to feel stress and more likely to feel powerful than people who had adopted the contractive pose.
Up until learning of the research of Cuddy et al., I had only thought that there was a correlation between a person’s pose and a person’s level of power.
I often see politicians such as Obama and lawyers (on Law & Order) adopting expansive positions with open limbs. Perhaps it’s their poses that allows them to become so confident. As Cuddy says in her TED talk, fake it until you become it.
I can’t say that cortisol is the only source of stress or that testosterone is the only source of dominance. That would be too reductionist. Biology isn’t the sole cause of behaviour; there are cognitive factors and sociocultural factors too. That being said, it does seems that cortisol and testosterone may have significant roles in determining our behaviours.
I can often be found crossing my own arms . . . To what extent is my contractive pose related to the tenseness that I feel during oral presentations? The next time I’m preparing for a class presentation, I’ll try adopting one of Cuddy’s power-poses. Let’s see whether I feel any different.
About this contributor: Brandon is a confused high school senior in Vancouver, BC. He enjoys investigating human behaviours, studying evolution, responding to current events, and debating.

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