• Spencer Greenberg and Clare Harris

Shifting Your Stance on the Psychological Impacts of Power Posing: From Real to Fake to Small

Updated: Sep 24, 2021


In 2010, a group of researchers made headlines after publishing a study claiming to have found a simple but effective technique through which people could easily make themselves feel more powerful. The strategy involved adopting specific expansive postures, known since then as "power poses." The researchers found that people could "embody power and instantly become more powerful" after adopting these poses for just one minute each.


Their study became progressively more famous in the years that followed, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The original paper had multiple methodological flaws and swiftly became a well-known casualty of the replication crisis. Here, we outline how this shift in perspective occurred, then we explain what we found when we ran the largest single study (to our knowledge) on the psychological effects of power posing. We randomized 1002 participants to spend 60 seconds adopting either a power pose (as shown in Figure One (1-A, 1-B)), a contractive posture (1-C), or a neutral posture, then asked them to rate their mood. We found that the psychological effects of power posing are small - so of debatable importance - but real. Our results support skepticism regarding the large effects in the original research paper, but they also suggest it's probably a mistake to dismiss the psychological effects of power posing as “fake” or “non-existent.”


(1-A) strongPerson:	(1-B) Akimbo:	(1-C) Crumpled:Figure One: High-power (1-A and 1-B) and low-power (1-C) poses. For the "strongPerson," "Akimbo," and "Crumpled" intervention groups, participants were instructed on how to hold the pose to which they had been assigned via a written description accompanied by a photograph. The photographs shown for the three conditions are depicted in (1-A), (1-B), and (1-C), respectively. Participants were asked to hold their assigned posture for 60 seconds.

Summary of Our Study Results


• In contradiction to the increasingly popular view that power posing does not work, our pre-registered [1] randomized controlled trial on 1002 participants found that people who were randomized to adopt a power pose for 60 seconds reported slightly greater positive mood and greater feelings of power (hereafter referred to as “felt power”) compared to people who adopted a neutral pose and also compared to people who adopted a contractive (or low power) pose.

• Though statistically significant, these effects were very small, so the practical significance of power posing remains debatable.

• The effects of power posing tended to differ depending on whether (at the end of the study) participants reported that, prior to the experiment, they had already believed that posture affects mood - those who reported that they did already believe this tended to report greater increases in felt power than those who reported they had not already believed this. This raises the question of whether the effects of power posing could be (partially or wholly) a placebo effect or due to some form of reporting bias.

• However, even when we eliminated the participants who reported believing in the effects of power posing before the study, there was still a tiny, but statistically significant, increase in reported feelings of power following power poses versus neutral poses.

• Participants may vary in the extent to which power posing impacts their mood and feelings of power. (Approximately 17.7% of participants in the power pose groups reported no change in any of the eight mood-related questions after adopting their assigned power pose; and 44.7% of those participants reported no change in subjective feelings of power after adopting their assigned power pose. However, 17.7% of them reported an increase in felt power of 2 points or more on the 7-point scale, suggesting that it might have been useful for those people - though these measurement changes could also be the result of noise.)

So what’s our current stance on power posing?


Since power posing costs nothing and takes almost no effort, the power posing technique may be worth experimenting with to see if you notice a large enough effect to make it worth applying in your own life, in situations where greater feelings of power or a slight mood boost are helpful (e.g., by adopting either of the power poses (depicted in Figure 1-A and 1-B) for one minute, in private, prior to an important meeting). We expect many people will find that there are no useful effects of power posing, but some people may find that the technique has a large enough effect to be worth using.


From large and real to (seemingly) fake: How and why did the effects of power posing become so contentious in the first place?


Before skepticism about power posing set in, the original 2010 study had been met with excitement - especially among the original research team, journalists, and the public. The study authors suggested that "over time and in aggregate, these minimal postural changes and their outcomes potentially could improve a person’s general health and well-being." In 2012, one of the authors gave a TED Global talk discussing the findings. Not long after, power posing was mentioned in a best-selling book, which helped its popularity spread. To date, the talk (titled, "Your body language may shape who you are") remains one of the most-watched TED videos of all time, with 62 million views.


Within four years of the blockbuster TED talk, however, the 2010 study had become, according to some, "a shorthand for flashy social psychological work that could not be replicated." By then, some of the findings had failed to replicate across multiple subsequent studies, and the methodological problems in the original study had been described in detail. For example, the original "power posing" study was relatively under-powered (that is, it had few participants - there were only n = 42 participants). Smaller sample sizes not only increase the rate of false negative results (type II errors), but also increase the risk of false positives (type I errors) (for example, see the explanations here and here). In addition to the small sample size, there were many other methodological problems with the 2010 study, such as the researchers not being blinded to the hypothesis or experimental conditions, and the fact that the analyses did not adequately account for gender. There were also issues with the way in which the sample size was chosen (with Carney reporting p-hacking, although it was not seen as p-hacking at the time), as well as with the choice and reporting of statistical analyses. [2]


The original study investigated not only the reported psychological effects of power posing, but also sought to investigate the effects on salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, as well as on risk-taking behavior (tested via a gambling task); unfortunately, there were problems with how the salivary testosterone and cortisol were measured and with the gambling task administration: for example, the gambling task occurred prior to the second salival sampling (for the hormonal assays) and it included immediate feedback on whether the participant had won, leaving open the possibility that any testosterone increases could have been due to a "winning" effect rather than a power posing effect. We are not investigating any hormonal or risk-taking effects here, but we note that these have failed to replicate elsewhere. [3] By 2016, the lead author (Carney) changed her mind about her own work, publicly stating that she did "not believe that 'power pose' effects are real."


Hearing about the 2010 study and its failed replications, you might ask (as Cesario, Jonas, and Carney did in 2017): "What was the point, and what did we learn?" Well, firstly, a number of researchers have taken the paper as a case study in practices that we want to move beyond in social science (e.g., see here, here, and here). Moreover, the reactions to the paper, including the many pre-registered, carefully designed studies investigating power posing, provide promising examples of psychology’s growing drive to self-correct for its previous mistakes.


From the criticisms that were levied against the original power posing work, a number of social scientists came to believe that power posing has no psychological effects. But did the critics go too far?


Updating from fake to real? - the surprising effects of a Bayesian meta-analysis on the psychological effects of power


In 2017, Gronau and colleagues published a Bayesian model-averaged meta-analysis using data from six pre-registered studies that assessed the effect of power posing on felt power across a total of 1071 participants. Carney and other researchers (introducing the special issue in which the meta-analysis was published [4]) had expected the meta-analysis to confirm the non-existence of the effects of power posing, but were surprised to see that this was not the case. Instead, Gronau and colleagues found strong evidence supporting a positive effect of power posing on felt power. Interestingly, however, when they excluded people who indicated that they were already aware of the concept of power posing (leaving a sample of 809 people), the evidence was only moderately supportive of an effect. We will discuss the implications of these results later.


What postures have researchers been comparing power poses to?


Unfortunately, for all of the studies in that meta-analysis cited above (and for most other studies published on power posing to date, too), researchers measured the effects of high-power posing in comparison to low-power (or contractive) poses. In other words, they did not include neutral postures as a control condition. This means that, for these prior studies, it is impossible to distinguish between the following possibilities: (1) power posing increases feelings of power, (2) contractive postures decrease feelings of power, or (3) the seemingly positive effects of power posing are arising from a combination of both of these effects. In contrast to most previous studies, our study explicitly includes a neutral sitting and a neutral standing posture, enabling us to examine the possible effects of power posing and contractive posing separately.


Our Study: Methods


Participants


We recruited 1090 people to participate in the study, via a combination of Positly.com (formerly taskrecruiter.com) and Facebook. Following the (pre-planned) removal of participants who didn’t complete the study or who reported not having followed the study instructions, the final sample size was n=1002 participants. Participants gave written informed consent prior to participating.


Procedures


This online randomized controlled trial included two "power pose" intervention subgroups and three comparison subgroups, and was pre-registered using aspredicted.org/. The pre-registration can be found here. You can view the study exactly as study participants experienced it by visiting this link. Please note that the link will randomize you to only one of the conditions at a time, so to see every condition you will have to go to the link repeatedly. Prior to this study, a pilot was run in order to plan which poses to use for the current pre-registered, randomized controlled trial. (The pilot study was aimed at uncovering which power posing postures were most likely to create effects - see Supplementary Figure Four for some of the results from the pilot.)


Following the informed consent process, participants in the main study reported their current posture (e.g., "seated" or "standing"), answered eight questions regarding their mood (the order of which was randomized each time), then were provided with written instructions on a specific posture to adopt. In the case of the neutral groups, participants were told to stand (the "noPoseStanding" group) or sit (the "noPoseSeated" group), while in the case of the high- and low-power groups, participants were given detailed instructions accompanied by a photograph of someone adopting that posture (as depicted in Figure One). After 60 seconds of adopting their assigned posture, all participants resumed their previous position, and answered the same eight questions regarding their mood.


At the end, participants answered some final questions, including (1) a question about whether, before the study, they believed holding their body in specific positions for a short period of time could have an effect on their mood, and (2) whether they had followed the experiment instructions. Anyone who had not finished the study or who reported not having followed the instructions was excluded from our analyses. To encourage participants to answer honestly, immediately before people were asked if they had followed instructions, those who were in the paid participant pool (i.e., people recruited via a paid participant portal rather than via Facebook) were reminded that they would still be paid for participation regardless of their answer to the question about following instructions.


For the "power pose" intervention group, people were randomly assigned to receive instructions on adopting either a "strongPerson" pose (n=194) or an "akimboHandsOnHips" (hereafter “akimbo”) pose (n=195). As illustrated in Figures 1-A and 1-B, both postures involve standing straight, without any bodily tension, with feet comfortably far apart from each other (i.e., comfortably open), and with the person looking ahead with their shoulders back and chin pointing upwards (i.e., an expansive posture). The difference between the two types of power pose lies in the positioning of the hands and arms. In this study, the strongPerson describes a pose in which one’s hands are closed, forming fists, with their elbows at 90 degrees such that the fists are pointing straight up at the ceiling. On the other hand, akimbo (as its name suggests) describes a posture in which one has their hands on their hips, with their elbows pointing out to the sides.


For the comparison groups, people were randomly assigned to receive instructions on adopting one of three poses: a noPosingSeated posture (n=206), which involved sitting in whatever posture the participant considered normal, a noPosingStanding posture (n=207), which involved standing in whatever posture the participant considered normal, or a "Crumpled," otherwise known as "contractive" or "powerless pose," (Figure 1-C), in which the participant was instructed to stand with their feet together, their arms crossed (with their hands clasping the opposite arm), their chin tilted downward, and their gaze directed down toward the ground (n=207).


Outcome Measures and Analysis Methods


The analyses were conducted as described in the pre-registration document here. For the pre-registered analyses, the main effect of interest was the change in positive and negative feelings experienced by participants after (versus before) the one-minute posture intervention (or lack thereof). Participants were asked the degree to which they would currently describe themselves as powerful, confident, and so on, using a seven-point Likert scale (from "totally agree," which conferred a score of 3, to "totally disagree," which conferred a score of -3 on the scale).


In addition to changes in felt power, a "total positive feeling" value was also calculated; this was done by taking the sum of the scores for the four positive emotions - "powerful," "confident," "good," and "happy" - and the reversed-scores for the four negative emotions - "anxious or worried," "down, depressed or hopeless," "bad," and "unhappy." The total positive feeling was then rescaled so that it had a minimum value of 0 and a maximum value of 1 (a.k.a. min-max normalized), and the values from before the intervention were subtracted from the values afterward.


Statistical analyses were conducted in GraphPad (https://www.graphpad.com/quickcalcs/ttest1/?Format=SD) and Jasp (JASP Team, 2020), except where otherwise specified. Except for Figure Seven and the appendices (most of which were created using a spreadsheet editor), figures were created using Jasp (JASP Team, 2020). Because our outcome data were not normally distributed, Mann-Whitney U-tests were performed, except where otherwise specified. However, due to our large sample sizes, student's t-test results are also reported in the footnotes after each Mann-Whitney U-test result. Please see the Appendices for a note about the implications of conducting multiple comparisons.


Our Study Results


(1) Power posing was followed by tiny but statistically significant increases in overall positive feelings

As shown in Table One and Figure Two below, power posing appeared to increase the total positive feelings that participants reported, relative to both the true controls and the contractive posture group. However, these effects were very small. (And for some people, the effects were non-existent - a total of 17.73% of participants in the power pose groups reported no change in any of the eight mood-related questions after adopting their assigned power pose.) The rescaled (min-max normalized) sum of positive feelings increased by a mean of 0.04 following one minute of power posing, compared to a mean increase of 0.02 in the neutral control groups.


Table OneGroupSample SizeMedianMADMeanSDRank biserial correlation vs neutral postures*Cohen’s d vs neutral posturesPower poses3890.020.040.040.08-0.16-0.25Neutral postures4130.020.040.020.08NANAContractive posture2000.000.04-2.08 ✕ 10-30.120.070.23 MAD = median absolute deviation SD = standard deviation * effect size is given by the rank biserial correlation (from the Mann-Whitney U-test comparing a given group to the pooled neutral postures group).

Increasing someone’s normalized sum of positive feelings by a mean of 0.04 is equivalent to moving their response to the eight mood questions by about 24% of a notch toward more positive feelings. (For example, this could mean moving 24% of the way from Agree to Totally Agree on the positive-mood-related questions, and moving the same amount, but in the opposite direction, on the negative-mood-related questions.)


Unlike most other experiments, the current study also included neutral comparison groups, which enabled us to look at the effect of power posing compared to neutral standing poses (as opposed to only compared to contractive postures). It is worth noting that the control group (i.e., the neutral postures groups pooled together) had an average raw effect size of about 0.02, so if we subtract this effect from that of the power poses, this halves the power posing effect to about 0.02, which is the equivalent of moving the person ~one eighth of a notch in the more positive direction on all of the eight mood questions. Although this difference between the pooled power posing groups and neutral posture groups was small, so of unclear practical importance, it was statistically significant (Mann-Whitney U = 67,533, n1 = 413, n2 = 389, p = 8.47 ✕ 10^-5). [5]


The power posing groups also reported significantly greater improvements in positive feelings compared to the Crumpled group (Mann-Whitney U = 30,652.50, n1 = 389, n2 = 200, p = 2.24 ✕ 10^-5)). [6] Interestingly, however, there was no statistically significant difference in the positive feeling increase reported by the pooled neutral comparison groups compared to the Crumpled group (Mann-Whitney U = 38,223, n1 = 413, n2 = 200, p = 0.13)). [7] So, in this experiment at least, there appear to be small but statistically significant positive effects following power posing, but we did not find significant negative effects following contractive posing.



Figure Two: changes in normalized total positive feelings across the three groups. 2-A: The distributions of all participants’ results. These violin plots show the probability density of data at different values of normalized positive feelings. Power posing appeared to increase the total positive feelings that participants reported, relative to both the true controls and the contractive posture group. However, as noted in the body of the text, the effect sizes here are tiny. These violin plots highlight how subtle the differences were.  2-B: The means and confidence intervals associated with the above results. Dots display the mean value for each group, while the bars show the 95% confidence intervals (CIs). (However, note that the data were non-normally distributed.)
Figure Two: changes in normalized total positive feelings across the three groups. 2-A: The distributions of all participants’ results. These violin plots show the probability density of data at different values of normalized positive feelings. Power posing appeared to increase the total positive feelings that participants reported, relative to both the true controls and the contractive posture group. However, as noted in the body of the text, the effect sizes here are tiny. These violin plots highlight how subtle the differences were. 2-B: The means and confidence intervals associated with the above results. Dots display the mean value for each group, while the bars show the 95% confidence intervals (CIs). (However, note that the data were non-normally distributed.)

The visual differences between 2-A and 2-B highlight the fact that the mean changes for the neutral and power posing groups (shown in 2-B) were larger than the median changes for these groups (discernible from the bulges in the middle of the violin plots in 2-A). When comparing the means between groups (as in 2-B), the differences between the neutral and power posing groups are more obvious. However, even in this case, note that the entire y axis extends from just -0.02 to 0.05, again highlighting that the effects are very small.


(2) In head-to-head comparisons between individual power poses and other poses, both power poses outperformed neutral sitting and contractive postures, but they did not consistently outperform neutral standing postures


Figure Three shows the changes in normalized total positive feelings broken down across the five individual groups. Although the differences are subtle, the rank order of effect sizes of the different groups were aligned with expectations: the highest changes were for the two power posing groups, followed by the noPosingStanding group, the noPosingSeated group, with the Crumpled posture having the smallest observed changes. There was no significant difference between the positive feelings reported following the strongPerson versus the akimboHandsOnHips posture (Mann-Whitney U = 19,437.50, n1 = 195, n2 = 194, p = 0.64), suggesting that neither power pose was superior to the other one. [8]


It may be that standing up is helpful on its own: there was a small trend toward an increase in positive feelings following the neutral standing compared to the neutral seated posture (Mann-Whitney U = 18,858.50, n1 = 207, n2 = 206, p = 0.04). [9] Note that most participants (>90%) were sitting at the start of the experiment, which means that almost everyone in the noPosingStanding was changing from a sitting position to a standing position. Although we lose some power by making comparisons between these subgroups (with smaller sample sizes), we conducted head-to-head comparisons between the two individual power groups and the noPosingStanding group, to see whether the small increase in positive feelings following power posing was significantly greater than the effect of merely standing in a neutral position.


There was a trend toward the akimbo pose producing a greater increase in normalized positive feelings compared to the noPosingStanding posture, but the difference was not statistically significant with either the Mann-Whitney t-test (Mann-Whitney U = 18,247.50, n1 = 207, n2 = 195, p = 0.09) or with student’s t-test. [10] There was a trend toward a small difference between the strongPerson and noPosingStanding groups (Mann-Whitney U = 17,767.50, n1 = 207, n2 = 194, p = 0.04; student’s t-test: t(399) = -1.69, p = 0.09).


These results suggest that there is a trend toward power posing producing more positive feelings than a neutral standing posture, but it is not significant in the case of akimbo and only marginally significant in the case of the strongPerson pose. However, both the power poses were associated with significantly greater positive feelings being reported versus the neutral seated posture (akimbo vs neutral seated: Mann-Whitney U = 15,933.50, n1 = 206, n2 = 195, p = 3.11 ✕ 10^-4; strongPerson vs neutral seated: Mann-Whitney U = 15,584.50, n1 = 206, n2 = 194, p = 1.27 ✕ 10^-4) [11] and versus the standing contractive posture (akimbo vs contractive posture: Mann-Whitney U = 15,507, n1 = 200 , n2 = 195, p = 4.01 ✕ 10^-4; strongPerson vs contractive posture: Mann-Whitney U = 15,145.50, n1 = 200, n2 = 194, p = 1.54 ✕ 10^-4).