Power posing: Can you boost your confidence just from the way you stand?

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In a recent episode of The Potential Psychology Podcast I interviewed relationship and dating psychologist Melanie Schilling. You might know her as an expert on Married at First Sight Australia. What you might not know is that when Mel's not on the telly she works with professional women to develop their confidence and self-belief, allowing them to flourish in their life and career.

I figured we can all benefit from a confidence-boost from time to time so I asked Mel for her tips on increasing self belief.

Melanie's tips

"Well first thing I'd suggest is you go and check out Amy Cuddy's fabulous TED talk on presence, or read her book, which is just amazing.

One of the interesting findings here is that, it's not just the mind influencing the body, which we've known for many years, but also the body can influence the mind. Posture is an example. [Cuddy] talks about how by standing in a power pose like Wonder Woman for two minutes, you can actually change your physiology. Your cortisol levels come down, so your stress levels come down, and your testosterone - which as we know is the assertiveness hormone - goes up.

What research has shown is that by doing this you actually are more likely to assert yourself and to take calculated risks in a social situation.

So you know what, I actually practice this whenever I'm about to step on a stage and you will find I'm standing there looking like Wonder Woman with my chest out, big grin on my face, because that really, really works." 

I can relate to this. I regularly speak to groups and in the moments before I step on stage I mentally 'click' into performance mode. I don't use a power pose but I do use a mindset tweak to bring energy and confidence to my presentation and interaction with the audience. A handy - and necessary - trick for an introvert.

The Controversy  

There is plenty of scientific research to support the proposition that we can alter our physical experience by managing our mind  (known as the mind-body connection or biopsychsocial paradigm) but does it work the other way around? Can our stance really affect our mental state?

According to Cuddy's studies it can, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the controversy within scientific circles surrounding this research. Attempts to replicate Cuddy and her colleagues' findings in subsequent experiments have found that a power pose can boost feelings of power but they have failed to reproduce effects on hormone levels or behaviour.

In fact Dana Carney, one of Cuddy's co-authors of the original study, has now distanced herself from the original research, stating 'I do not believe the power pose effects are real' in a post on her website

Meanwhile Cuddy has defended her position by stating in a post on LinkedIn that 'the key finding, the one that I would call β€œthe power posing effect,” is simple: adopting expansive postures causes people to feel more powerful.'

Does the controversy matter?

Science has a long history of arguing over research results. Indeed the scientific process is an iterative one with research critically examining and building on the findings of its predecessors. Scientific quibbles are commonplace.

The timing of Cuddy's research however, the replication failure and her high profile due to her TED Talk came on the heels of a bigger drama - the scientific replication crisis - in which researchers have found that the results of many scientific studies are difficult or impossible to reproduce on subsequent investigation. (You can read more about that here).

Cuddy's work has been inextricably linked to the crisis but other research supports her contention that the way we move does affect the way we feel, particularly when it comes to reducing our stress.

Ultimately if you're in need of a confidence boost before a big moment and standing like Wonder Woman allows you to get out there and smash it, then go for it. Whatever the scientists find, you've got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. 

Thanks for the tip Mel.

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