The science of power posing: this article explores how our body language both impacts and reflects our mental state, how we can change the way in which we feel by implementing particular poses and the power of non-verbal communication.
As human beings, we have what is known as an evolutionarily “body-loop” derived from the scientific understanding, which links how we act, with our feelings of expectation. In other words, our physiology overrides our psychology – always.
How we feel and what we think about, is always reflected by the position of our body, which is performed subconsciously, meaning, we do this without consciously altering how we think, feel, stand, move our hands, legs and so on and so forth. Our body-language also informs us of how we are feeling and what we are thinking, which is particularly useful on our quest to establish underlining issues that lay in our subconscious mind as it pertains to mental illness; most people are unaware of how they truly feel and the nature of their predominant thought cycles.
The Science of Non-Verbal Communication:
Numerous studies were conducted by cognitive psychologists, social psychologists, and primorial researchers to further understand how we influence each other’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
If you would like to learn more about how our mind creates emotion and how we form feelings, you can do so by reading my article How the brain creates emotion and impacts your mental health.
From these various studies, we know Power, whether it is chronic, displayed or momentary, leads people to power posing, however, the question now arises, does power posing lead to power?
Corresponding authors Dana R. Carney, Columbia University, Graduate School of Business and Amy J.C. Cuddy, Harvard Business School of Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance concluded the following:
Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures…The results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance
Further studies conducted by Cuddy have further questioned whether Power was an embodied concept, by taking a select group of people and verbally describing a mixture of ten high powered and low powered body poses. This experiment required a couple of measures which were related to the psychology of power such as risk-taking; were they more than likely to take risks? Some explicit measures of power; how powerful and in control did they feel? And then some implicit measures; the group were given an incomplete word and told to fill in the blank in order to establish whether they chose a power word or not.
For example, those who were in a low power mood would complete the word ending in ‘er’ as ‘tower’, whereas those in a high power mood would complete the word as ‘power’.
It is important to establish the role in which testosterone levels and cortisol levels impact high and low power moods, for example, those who have a strong anticipation of winning and those who were threatened by other competitors and felt more dominant overall, had an increased level of testosterone and yet lower levels of cortisol.
Cortisol is our stress hormone and was found to be predominantly lower in those with higher testosterone levels, due to their tolerance of stress, which continues to drop as they achieve power. This is, of course, the reverse for those who are in low powered moods.
This study unequivocally confirmed, how our mood is reflected in our non-verbal displays, with our open and expansive body language referencing high power moods’ taking up space and enlarging one’s physique and closed, contractive postures which minimised our appearance and stance, expressed low power moods.
The following are a list of other, non-verbal ways we communicate which further emphasise our words and feelings:
- Repetitive movement: By repeating certain movements, we can strengthen the message we are verbally communicating.
- Contradictory movement: If our movements are not sincere, they can contradict the message we are trying to convey verbally, thus indicating to our listener that we may not be telling the truth.
- Substitution: We can substitute particular movements for a verbal message. For example, your facial expressions, hand movements as seen in the Italian culture which has the ability to convey a far more vivid message than words ever could.
- Complementary movement: This can complement and or provide more emphasis and value to your verbal message. A boss or senior member may emphasis a congratulatory message by shaking your hand and or patting you on the back.
- Accenting movement: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message as well as running your hands through your hair which can demonstrate how stressed you feel over a situation.
Body-language and facial feedback:
Most of us will have heard the phrase ‘fake it ’till you make it‘, meaning, you believe to have achieved what you want or become who you want to be, before doing so in reality. In order to establish whether this can be done or not, we must look at ‘facial feedback‘ which is a term used to define emotion expressed on the face; our understanding of facial feedback proves how our expressions can change our mood.
For example, when forced to smile, using both the eyes and mouth – known as a Duchenne smile – our feelings will eventually match this facial expression which enables us to feel as if, we are having a more enjoyable experience. The Duchenne smile is also known as the sincerest of all facial expressions. However, until we feel that true emotion of having an enjoyable experience, our other non-verbal cues will be contradictory and may show to others, a lack of sincerity. The latter is demonstrated in the image of Britney Spears where she is forcing a smile, made clear by the lack of input by her eyes.
Social scientists think of non-verbal cues such as this, as communication itself, and by studying how we interact as a whole, they were able to demonstrate how much of our lives, wellbeing and feelings are impacted; from who we employ, how well we perform, handle pressure and to whether or not we find someone likeable.
Studies have proven just how impactful non-verbal cues are that they can predict the likelihood of a medical profession being sued based on a short introduction to a patient. Their chances of being sued had little to do with how competent the physician was and more so, related to their likeability by the patient.
Power Poses: Powerful Body-language
Scientific findings have confirmed that a person who adopts the non-verbal ‘wonder woman‘ pose for two minutes, showed an increased level in their testosterone, their cortisol levels dropped significantly and they became more risk-taking. In other studies, scientists found people who adopted this position developed a higher pain threshold, thought more abstractly and were more likely to do well in highly stressful situations like interviewing for a job, conducting surgery or taking an exam.
Professors Jessica Tracy and Richard W. Robins at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver researched the expression known as ‘pride‘ in groups who could see and those deemed legally blind and found people universally, raised one’s arms above their head in order to express a great sense of achievement and fulfilment in their work, after receiving a good grade and or winning a race. Variations of this pose where concluded to express momentous pride in oneself as expressed in the following research:
“Like the ‘‘basic’’ emotions, pride isassociated with a distinct, universally recognized, non-verbal expression, which is spontaneously displayed during pride experiences. Yet, pride differs from the basic emotions in its dependency on self-evaluations and in its complexstructure, which is comprised of two theoretically and conceptually distinct facets that have divergent personality correlates and cognitive antecedents…Other research confirms that the nonverbal display we iden-tified is, in fact, expressed when individuals experience pride. Children tend show components of the expression, including head tilt and expanded posture, after success (e.g., Stipek et al.,1992). Athletes from a wide range of cultures were found to display several components of the pride expression (e.g., headtilt, expanded chest) after winning a match in the 2004 Olympic judo competition (Tracy & Matsumoto, 2007).”Emerging Insights Into theNature and Function of PrideJessica L. Tracy and Richard W. Robins
Have you ever used one of these stances? I really enjoyed researching more into the topic of non-verbal communication and power posing and since found it very helpful.
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Sending you all love and light,