Lack Confidence? Strike These Power Poses

Last Updated Sep 21, 2010 12:30 PM EDT

Want to boost your self-image and sense of well being? Do what animals in the wild do: strike a pose.

Certain poses, if held over a short period of time, can increase testosterone and reduce anxiety-producing cortisol, providing a sense of well being and power, new research reveals.

That's big news for those of us who get anxious during a high-stakes job interview or have to give a career-making (or breaking) presentation to the Board. Forget the pharmaceuticals -- just get into a "power pose."

In a forthcoming article for the journal Psychological Science, authors Amy J.C. Cuddy, Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap detail the results of an experiment with forty-two posing male and female participants. Cuddy is a professor at Harvard Business School while Carney and Yap are at Columbia University.

Researchers have long understood that facial expressions not only reflect how we feel, but also that we can change the way we feel -- at least for awhile -- by adopting appropriate expressions. This new research heads down the body to see how posing can also change feelings.

What are the power poses? The researchers tested several, including the classic feet on desk, hands behind head. Another: standing and leaning on one's hands over a desk. These poses make us look bigger, dominant. But they also change our physiological responses -- we fake it until we make it.

Low-power poses included sitting in a chair with arms held close and hands folded, and standing with arms and legs crossed tightly. As in nature, these restrictive poses are what animals use as defensive positions to protect their vital organs.

"It does appear that even this minimal manipulation can change people's physiology and psychology and, we hope, lead to very different, meaningful outcomes, whether it's how they perform in a job interview or how they participate in class," Cuddy tells HBS Working Knowledge.
Do you have a favorite power pose? Keep that middle finger holstered!
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.