If You Stand Like Superman or Wonder Woman, Would You Feel Stronger?

Summary: A new meta-analysis study reviews the effects of body posture on positive self-perception, reporting a dominant pose or strong upright posture can help people feel, and behave, more confidently.

Source: Martin Luther University

Dominant or upright postures can help people feel – and maybe even behave – more confidently. A new analysis by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the University of Bamberg and The Ohio State University has confirmed what small studies already suggested.

The team evaluated data from around 130 experiments with a total of 10,000 participants. The results also disprove the controversial claim that certain poses influence a person’s hormone levels.

The study is published in Psychological Bulletin.

Posture and body language are popular tools used in psychology. “In therapy, they can help people feel secure and experience positive feelings,” says psychologist Robert Körner from MLU and the University of Bamberg.

The research of power posing deals with the extent to which very bold poses can influence a person’s feelings and self-worth. One common example is the victory pose with outstretched arms which, according to several studies, is meant to increase self-confidence.

“However, many of these studies are inconclusive and were conducted with small samples. Moreover, studies sometimes have contradictory results,” adds Körner.

Therefore, the team conducted a meta-analytic (quantitative) review in which they combined the data of around 130 experiments from published and unpublished studies. Complex statistical methods were used to re-assess the data on nearly 10,000 people.

The researchers wanted to find out whether posture influences a person’s self-perception, behaviour and hormone levels. 

The team found a connection between an upright posture and power posing and a more positive self-perception.

“A dominant pose can, for example, make you feel more self-confident,” says personality researcher Professor Astrid Schütz from the University of Bamberg.

The team found a similar correlation with behaviour, for example task persistence, antisocial behaviour, but these effects were less robust.

On the other hand, the assertion that certain poses can boost the production of physiological effects, for example hormones, such as testosterone and cortisol, which had been claimed in previous research, was not supported.

“The findings on the physiological effects of power posing are not robust and have not been replicated by independent research groups,” explains Schütz.

This shows a man standing tall in a super hero cape
The team found a connection between an upright posture and power posing and a more positive self-perception. Image is in the public domain

Through their work, the team was also able to identify some limitations in previous research. For example, most studies worked without a control group; participants were asked to adopt either a dominant, open or a more submissive posture. Groups without those poses were only rarely included.

“Because of that, it is not possible to say where the differences come from, as only one of the two poses may have an effect,” says Robert Körner.

Moreover, almost all of the studies have so far been conducted in so called WEIRD societies (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), so it is not clear whether the findings can be applied to other cultures.

The differences between males and females and across different age groups, on the other hand, were nonsignificant. 

About this psychology and posture research news

Author: Tom Leonhardt
Source: Martin Luther University
Contact: Tom Leonhardt – Martin Luther University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Dominance and prestige: Meta-analytic review of experimentally induced body position effects on behavioral, self-report, and physiological dependent variables” by Robert Körner et al. Psychological Bulletin


Dominance and prestige: Meta-analytic review of experimentally induced body position effects on behavioral, self-report, and physiological dependent variables

Early research on body positions suggested that engaging in certain nonverbal displays can lead to changes in self-report, behavioral, and physiological dependent variables. Still, there has been intense criticism regarding the replicability of these effects.

To determine what effects are valid, we conducted a meta-analytic review on body position studies.

We used the dominance–prestige framework and distinguished between high-power poses representing dominance and upright postures representing prestige.

We preregistered our meta-analysis, used the largest sample of studies thus far, and analyzed several theoretical and exploratory moderator variables.

Based on 313 effects from 88 studies involving 9,779 participants, evidence was obtained for an overall statistically significant effect of body positions that was not trivial in size, g = 0.35 (95% CI [0.28,0.42]).

Both the poses and postures showed effects for self-report and behavioral dependent variables but not for physiological dependent variables.

However, sensitivity analyses suggested that effects for behavioral dependent variables were influenced by publication bias and/or outliers.

Effects were noticeably larger in studies without cover stories and in studies that used within-subjects designs, suggesting that demand characteristics might partially explain the results.

Whether participants were male or female, students or nonstudents, or from an individualistic or collectivistic culture did not make a difference.

We also present an app that researchers can use to enter data from future studies and thus obtain up-to-date meta-analytical results on this topic.

Future research should investigate whether high-power poses/upright postures increase effects and/or whether low-power poses/slumped postures decrease effects.

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